Auburn’s first A-Day Game under new head coach Gus Malzahn turned out to be an exciting one for those in attendance — much of whom were there to partake in the last roll of Auburn’s famous oak trees at Toomer’s Corner.
Playing in front of a spring game-record crowd of 83,401 fans, the Orange team, which actually wore the Tigers’ road white uniforms, used big plays on offense and defense to defeat the Blue 35-14 on a breezy but crystal-clear day in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“It’s kind of overwhelming. Hat’s off to our fans,” Malzahn said. “I know that meant unbelievable amounts to our players and coaches. That’s what really stood out to me.”
Playing in a format in which the first-team offense squared off against the second-team defense and the second-team offense went against the first-team defense, almost every Tiger in uniform got to showcase their talent for coaches — and a fan-base — searching for playmakers.
After Auburn’s first team offense stalled out on its first possession, the Tigers’ first team defense got the Orange team on the board 7-0 when junior “Star” linebacker/safety (in a 4-2-5 defense the “Star” normally plays the wide side of the field) Justin Garrett scooped up a bad snap over Blue team quarterback Jonathan Wallace’s head for a 29-yard fumble recovery for a score early in the first quarter.
Junior college signee Cameron Artis-Payne helped the Blue team tie the game 7-7 when he burst through the right side of the line for a 27-yard touchdown. The drive was aided by a key third-down completion from Wallace, great offensive line blocking and a big 20-yard reception by junior halfback/tight end C.J. Uzomah.
Shortly after Artis-Payne’s score, the sophomore Wallace orchestrated another scoring drive. This time it ended with a 17-yard pass to 265-pound tight end/receiver/halfback Brandon Fulse on a nifty pump-fake and throw to the corner of the end zone. Fulse, who was wide open, hauled in the nice touch pass for a 17-yard score to increase the Orange lead to 14-7.
Following productive touchdown producing drives by Wallace, who finished 18 of 26 passing for 191 yards, Kiehl Frazier put his stamp on the game when he hooked up with Trovon Reed in the left flat, moving right to left towards the teeth of the Auburn student section, for a 9-yard touchdown pass. Reed made a nice catch and run on the play, which increased the Orange lead to 21-7 with under a minute to play in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Frazier got the Orange offense on the board again when he scored on a quarterback keeper from seven yards out. The run pushed the Orange’s lead to 28-7 with 8:38 to go until halftime. Frazier ended the afternoon 10 of 16 passing for 125 yards. He added 24 yards on the ground.
Wallace’s second touchdown of the day was a 38-yard pass to Dimitri Reece that helped the Blue team cut the deficit to 28-14. But Tre Mason’s 4-yard TD run was the final score of the game, and the Orange came out with a 35-14 victory.
Artis-Payne stole the show in his Tigers debut. The 5-11, 208-pound junior running back had 18 carries for 117 yards and a score in his first live action in front of a new fan base.
“He made some really good runs. He’s a big downhill back. He’s gotten better,” Malzahn said about Artis-Payne, who sports the No. 44.
Mason, coming off a 1,000-yard season a year ago, had 60 yards on 11 carries after being banged up for much of the spring.
“That was really the first live work since he got injured. He wasn’t 100 percent, but he got in there and played hard and did some good things,” Malzahn said.
Spring star and former Opelika High School standout Corey Grant didn’t play due to a fever.
Although sophomore wideout Sammie Coates didn’t find the end zone, he made some tough grabs in traffic. Coates seems to have a knack for making the difficult catch. Sophomore Ricardo Louis led all receivers in catches with eight grabs for 66 yards.
Garrett and redshirt freshman linebacker Javier Mitchell looked good on defense. Sophomore Joshua Holsey, a cornerback by trade, played safety due to a lack of personnel at the position. He led all defensive players with eight tackles. Garrett had the hit of the day in the first quarter. Overall, the tackling form showed improvement under new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, but it will likely be a work in progress.
Following the game, thousands of Tiger fans made their way to Toomer’s Corner to roll Auburn’s oak trees one last time in an emotional outpouring of support.
The Tigers will practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and then conclude spring ball.