Auburn 40, Washington State 14. Believe it or not, the game was more interesting than the score indicates. AU got off to a clattery start on offense, settling for field goals on their first four possessions. The passing game definitely didn't click for the first couple of quarters, giving some creedence to those who've surmised the Tigers would have trouble breaking in all those new receivers. Pass protection wasn't exactly in mid-season form, either.
That said, the running game led by Kenny Irons was everything it's been expected to be. Granted, it didn't take a football genius to figure that Washington State's thin defense would be easy pickings in the second half, but Auburn's game plan was humming like a top by late in the second quarter, and Wazzu couldn't answer effectively. Irons ripped out one long run after another, to the apparent amazement of an officiating crew that needed to review every touchdown for... heck, I don't know what they were reviewing them for. Unnecessary domination? At any rate, any time you can score in eight possessions, you're doing plenty right on offense.
To give credit where it's due, though, Wa-State is obviously a well-coached team. They were solid in the fundamentals and didn't lose their poise, even when absorbing a pretty solid pummeling on both sides of the ball. Starting quarterback Alex Brink did a pretty fair impression of Brodie Croyle during his first couple of series, but I thought he recovered pretty well for the balance of the game. His sub, Gary Rogers, was even better. It was hard to measure such things from my seats, but I'd estimate that after Rogers lofted a 50-yard touchdown pass to a nobody-within-90-miles-of-him tight end Cody Boyd in the second half, Auburn DC Will Muschamp's right leg turned brown from the toes up to mid-thigh approximately 2.315 seconds after his defense made it to the sideline.
Muschamp still has some work to do with his safeties, and the run coverage in the middle was not helped any by all those missing linebackers, but you have to be happy with the corners if you're an Auburn fan. David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite just flat owned WSU superstar wideout Jason Hill, limiting him to only token participation. By the second half, they were slapping away passes with open contempt.
I will offer one serious criticism of Auburn's coaching staff, or more specifically, the head coach. While the team was obviously well-prepared and motivated for the starter (a very welcome change), Tommy Tuberville's decision to go for a fake punt from deep in his own territory with the game still in some doubt was Not. A. Good. Call.
It worked, so the papers today are full of aw-shucks praise for the return of the "Riverboat Gambler," but that was a gamble Tuberville didn't need to make. That was the kind of call you make when you're in a hole, and you need an big break in a tight situation. Saturday against Washington State didn't meet any of that criteria. Auburn had all the edge it needed, and calling a fake in that situation had way too much downside. AU can stand on the same field with anybody from a talent standpoint, so let's see a lot less of calls better made by teams that have to run uphill. Okay, off the soapbox.
Well, just one more: Robert Dunn was adequate in his first game as a punt returner. He caught the ball, called for fair catches at the right time, and didn't have a turnover. That understood, Tristan Davis was nothing less than electrifying returning kickoffs. Davis isn't just fast, he's got Ludicrous Speed. He's got Reggie Bush-Skyler Green-Ace-Wright-insane speed. He needs to touch the ball a lot more. Make him the all-purpose kick returner, and you're going to give opposing coaches hives as soon as the news hits the wires.