AUBURN, Ala. — Deep in Dixie, the Cougars were gracious guests.
In a game that should earn a "y'all come back" invitation, they helped bolster Auburn's No. 4 national ranking and Kenny Irons' Heisman campaign.
The Tigers thumped Washington State 40-14 Saturday night before a national cable audience and a sellout crowd of 87,451 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
After the win, Auburn fans celebrated in their traditional fashion as they threw toilet paper in the trees at Toomer's Corner, an intersection at the edge of campus.
Irons rushed for 184 yards on 20 carries, including a game-breaking 58-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. He also caught three passes for 40 yards.
"He's got my Heisman vote," said WSU defensive coordinator Robb Akey, who was without two starters and even went to a 3-4 defensive alignment at times to stop the Tigers.
There were a couple of pleasant surprises for the Cougars, who led 7-6 after one quarter.
The biggest surprise was the performance of backup quarterback Gary Rogers, who entered the game for a series in the third quarter and went 5 for 5 on a 90-yard touchdown drive, with 85 of the yards through the air. The drive ended with a 50-yard TD pass down the middle to tight end Cody Boyd.
"I was in shotgun and I noticed they had a single safety to the left," said Rogers, a redshirt sophomore from Kamiak High School in Mukilteo. "I dropped back, looked off the left safety and found Cody wide open. I just didn't want to miss him."
Boyd said, "I was hoping that the middle would stay open after I got past the linebackers and that's what happened."
Despite the brilliant drive, coaches reinserted Brink, who didn't have his best night. He completed 11 of 24 passes for 67 yards and one TD, a 2-yard pass to Jason Hill. He also was intercepted once, by linebacker Will Herring, which led to Auburn's final touchdown.
Brink's night had started rough as he was sacked on three of the Cougars' first four plays.
"We were kind of fighting an uphill fight from the beginning," Brink said. "When you're playing the No. 4 team in the nation, you can't get off to a slow start."
Quarterback coach Timm Rosenbach defended the move not to keep Rogers in the game, saying, "Alex is the starting quarterback and he's the guy who is going to win games for us."
Rogers got back in the game for the final series and completed 1 of 4 passes.
The other surprise for the Cougars was how effective starting running back DeMaundray Woolridge was before leaving the game with a thigh bruise just before halftime. Woolridge, a sophomore getting his first start, gained 86 yards on nine carries and set up the Cougars' first-quarter TD with a 42-yard run.
Woolridge suffered the injury after a collision with Tristan Davis, who tackled him when Woolridge scooped up a bouncing pitch off the grass on an option play.
At halftime, Auburn led 19-7 but had scored only one touchdown .
Irons made the score 25-7 on the first play of the second half with his dazzling 58-yard run during which he cut back and outran all of his pursuers.
The Cougars replied with Rogers' touchdown drive but never scored again. Auburn got in position for a 36-yard field goal after a 42-yard gain by Herring on a fake punt but it was the only miss of the night by John Vaughn. He was 4 for 5, including a career-best 52-yarder.
Auburn scored 14 points in the final quarter and the Cougars wound up allowing Auburn to amass 484 yards, 293 on the ground.
Coach Bill Doba said, "You are never happy with a loss but I thought our kids battled hard. Our defense was put in some bad situations but they never quit."
Regarding the Auburn defense, Doba said, "I thought their defense was better than we thought they would be. They were quicker and had good team speed."
And now, as expected, they have one more win than the Cougars.
Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or email@example.com
|WSU's 2006 regular-season football schedule:|
||at Auburn 40, WSU 14|
||12:45 p.m., FSN|
||at Oregon State
||4 p.m., Ch. 4|
||at Arizona State
||3:45 p.m., FSN|
* — Played at Qwest Field.
Note: Schedule subject to change.