Auburn tailback Michael Dyer rushed for 157 yards — 105 in the second half — and the Tigers pulled away from Samford in the fourth quarter for a 35-16 victory in front of a homecoming crowd of 85,347 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“We all know Michael is a good back,” said Auburn coach Gene Chizik. “There is no question about it. Again, he had his opportunities today, and we were going to give him those opportunities. I told him that before the game and again coming out in the second half, that was kind of our idea, work him as a physical, downhill back. Eventually, he will break one of those. I thought he ran well for the most part today. We have to get the turnovers cleaned up, but overall, that is a great accomplishment.”
The non-conference victory over the FCS Bulldogs sets up next week’s Iron Bowl showdown between the Tigers (7-4, 4-3 SEC) and Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC).
And no one knows better than Chizik that the Tigers will have to play light years better against the Crimson Tide than they did Saturday against the Bulldogs, who hung around for the majority of the game before the Tigers put them away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“We are going back to work,” Chizik said. “We know who we have to play next week. We know what it means. We are going to go back to work (today)and be excited to play in another great game and a great rivalry.”
Samford (6-5) gave Auburn all it could handle and more on Saturday.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Coach (Samford coach Pat) Sullivan,” Chizik said.
“Coach Sullivan did a great job of preparing his team. No doubt about it. It was not pretty at times as we know, but again, I’m going to go back to being very proud that we just got our seventh win of the season, and that was the objective today, to win the game, and we did that. We understand right now that we have a lot to clean up and a lot to get better at. There is no question about it. We will start on that again tomorrow.”
Auburn led 21-16 early in the fourth quarter but put the game away with two unanswered touchdowns — a 22-yard run by quarterback Clint Moseley and a 10-yard touchdown run by tailback Onterio McCalebb.
Dyer did most of the tough running on both drives. He carried 18 times in the second half.
“We wanted to finish the season out strong,” Dyer said. “Everybody did their jobs today. The offensive line played well. Our second-string line came in and did a great job knowing the plays, and Clint did a great job of reading the defenses.”
Sullivan was honored before the game by Auburn, the school where he won a Heisman Trophy as a record-setting quarterback in 1971.
His present team honored him with its effort. The Bulldogs managed 338 yards in total offense on 75 plays. Tailback Jeremiah Gates rushed for 119 yards on 28 carries and wide receiver Kelsey Pope had 13 receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown.
“I had mixed emotions about the game,” Sullivan said. “Wanted to win the ball game. The positive side is that I felt our kids came in and put it all on the line. When we got to the fourth quarter, they finally washed us down and did some things.”
Auburn’s sluggish start may have been a case of looking behind at last week’s 45-7 thrashing at the hands of Georgia or ahead to next week’s super rivalry with Alabama.
Chizik wouldn’t speculate.
“I can’t answer that to be honest with you,” he said. “I can make all kinds of excuses about how at times we didn’t play well. I can pull them out of the kitchen sink now, but the reality of it is there were times where they played really well and there were times where we didn’t. So, no excuses. Again, we didn’t play pretty all of the time, but at the end of the day we won.”
Charles Bennett covers Auburn University sports for The Star. Follow him on Twitter @AUTigers_Star.