Auburn started slow, and it wasn't pretty at times, but the Tigers defeated New Mexico State, 42-7, at Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday. In a season that has featured few reasons to smile, Auburn should celebrate picking up a win, no matter the opponent.
The first quarter was a sign of same old, same old for the Tigers (2-7, 0-6 SEC), who had just 29 yards, including -1 on the ground, after the first 15 minutes. But Auburn finally got on the board with 5:38 left in the second quarter thanks to a five-yard run by Tre Mason. Auburn took a meager 7-0 lead into the locker room, but the floodgates opened in the second half, and the Tigers racked up 35 points in the final two quarters. Auburn totaled 475 yards and even scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, its first two touchdowns in the final period this season.
In his first start, Jonathan Wallace was shaky at times, but that can mostly be attributed to his status as a true freshman. He was decisive for most of the afternoon and didn't make too many bad decisions -- although, the interception thrown into double coverage sticks out. At the end of the day, Wallace was 9 of 16 for 164 yards, a touchdown and the one pick. Based on the opponent, it's still hard to tell just how good Wallace can be right now, but he certainly looked better than Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley. It's safe to say that Wallace will be the preferred starter for the rest of the season, and he could be the quarterback of the future on the Plains.
One of the biggest frustrations for Auburn fans this season has been the inconsistent running game and insufficient carries for Mason. Those frustrations were alleviated Saturday -- at least for one game -- as the Tigers gained 311 yards on 44 rushes. Mason compiled a career-high 152 yards on 22 carries to go with his touchdown, and Onterio McCalebb looked like the change-of-pace threat Auburn used to know, gaining 113 yards and two scores on eight carries. His 14.1 yards per rush was the kind of number Auburn fans saw from the senior during Auburn's national title season in 2010.
On defense, Auburn finally played a full 60 minutes, holding a shutout for most of the game. The Tigers allowed the Aggies to gain 300 yards, but New Mexico State was just 2 of 13 on third-down attempts. Auburn forced two turnovers, including a fumble returned 62 yards for a touchdown by Daren Bates. With four sacks and nine tackles for loss, Auburn defenders were in the backfield more than they have been all year. Angelo Blackson had a fine game in the middle of the line, compiling five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Demetruce McNeal led the Tigers with 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a sack.
Was this an impressive win? No. Auburn was far from perfect, and New Mexico State is legitimately one of the worst teams in college football. But that doesn't matter. Auburn won -- comfortably, even -- and for the first time all year, the players looked to be having fun when the final whistle blew. This has been a rough season, and with games left against Georgia and Alabama, it stands to get rougher. But for an afternoon, everyone can put aside the anger and sadness and just celebrate the fact that the Tigers scored more points than their opponents. Sunday, talk of Gene Chizik's and Jay Jacobs' job security will heat back up. But today is Saturday, and Auburn won. Enjoy it.