Sept. 3, 2006
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Kenny Irons routinely sidestepped defenders and the Auburn Tigers did the same with the opening day jitters that have plagued them in recent years.
Irons rushed for 183 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown scamper to open the third quarter, and the fourth-ranked Tigers beat Washington State 40-14 on Saturday night.
No season-opening pain on the Plains this time. Only celebration, optimism and enough big plays to overcome any deficiencies against the Pac-10 visitors.
"We proved that we can come out strong," said Irons, who had a career-high 223 all-purpose yards on 20 rushes and three catches. "From here we can't go down. All we can do is go up and get better."
The Tigers had an array of big runs from Irons, accurate kicks from John Vaughn, on-target passes from quarterback Brandon Cox - and a big gamble by coach Tommy Tuberville on a fake punt.
Auburn had lost three of its last four openers, but will get to enjoy their highest preseason ranking since 1990 at least another week.
"We won't have to hear about not winning the first game for awhile," Tuberville said.
Irons opened Auburn's first drive with a 42-yard carry and never stopped pounding away at the Cougars.
His only misstep came on his biggest play. Irons slowed down around the 5-yard line at the end of his field-reversing 58-yarder to taunt pursuing defender Tyrone Brackenridge and nearly stepped out of bounds, but the play stood after a review by instant replay officials.
Irons said he was responding to trash-talking from the Cougars.
"I toyed with him a little bit. It's not very classy, but they talk a little trash," Irons said. "I'm a humble person. It wasn't very classy, and I don't think I'll do that again."
Cox was 11-of-18 for 191 yards and had a 34-yard touchdown pass to backup tailback Brad Lester, who also ran for a 12-yard score.
But the Cougars couldn't slow Irons down.
"He is as good as I have seen," coach Bill Doba said. "There were a lot of times I thought we had him but he ran right through our arms. We didn't tackle very well."
Vaughn kicked four first-half field goals, including a career-long 52-yarder, for Auburn's first 12 points. Then, Lester and Cox made the Cougars pay for a blitz with their swing pass as he dove over the goal line.
The defense hounded Washington State quarterback Alex from the start, sacking him on three of the Cougars' first four plays. Brink passed for 2,891 yards last season but only 67 against the Tigers, completing 11-of-24 passes with a touchdown and an interception.
His longest pass play was 16 yards, and he seldom got time to find open receivers downfield against an aggressive defense under new coordinator Will Muschamp.
"We were fighting an uphill battle from the beginning," Brink said. "With the No. 4 team in the country, you can't get off to a slow start."
Plus, tailback DeMaundray Woolridge went out with a deep thigh bruise after gaining 86 yards on nine carries. His status will be evaluated during the week.
The Cougars replaced Brink for one series midway through the third quarter. Gary Rogers quickly moved them downfield before finding tight end Cory Boyd wide-open across the middle for a 50-yard touchdown, making it 26-14.
The Tigers then resorted to trickery in an attempt to regain momentum. Linebacker Will Herring took the direct snap on a fake punt from Auburn's own 16, running 42 yards.
"The momentum was switching quickly. They had scored, they had held us to three-and-out," Tuberville said. "I could feel the momentum change. When I saw they were lined up perfect, I took a big swallow knowing it was going to be run. It went perfect.
"That won't be the last one we run this year."
After a halfback pass fell incomplete, Vaughn missed a 36-yard field goal.
But the Auburn defense held and Lester scored on a 12-yarder with 11:02 left in the fourth quarter. After that, the rout was back on.
Auburn's defense shut down the Cougars biggest weapon, receiver Jason Hill, who averaged 110 yards per game last year.
He caught a 2-yard touchdown pass but finished with four catches for 18 yards.
Auburn outgained Washington State 484-274, gaining 293 yards on the ground without a turnover.
The Tigers also silenced some of that talk about being slow starters.
"We can't come out and reflect on the past," said defensive end Quentin Groves, who had a sack. "We didn't want to start the season on a sour note, because if we lose one we're out of the (national title) hunt."