NASHVILLE-- Hoping to seize an opportunity to pounce on a wounded Tiger, Vanderbilt instead wound up grabbing a Tiger by the tail. Auburn rediscovered its missing offense Saturday afternoon and combined it with a smothering defense to pummel the Commodores, 45-7, at Vanderbilt Stadium.
For Auburn (1-2, 1-0 SEC), the win took an enormous monkey off the back of embattled coach Tommy Tuberville-- at least for another week. Under fire for his team's miserable performances in its first two games, Tuberville assembled a game plan that turned the tables and had Vanderbilt reeling. For all the grumbling Auburn fans have done the past two weeks, the Tigers still have a great shot to win the SEC West-- if they play the way they did Saturday.
Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-2), on the other hand, took a giant step backwards in absorbing its 19th straight conference defeat. Auburn, which had been ranked in the Top Ten in the preseason, looked like Auburn again-- and Vanderbilt looked like... well, Vanderbilt.
"Coming into this game, we thought we could be a contender," said Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson. "When we had the opportunities during the game, we just couldn't get them done."
"It could have been disastrous if we had started slowly on both sides of the ball," said Tuberville, whose offense got off to a slow start in the first quarter. "The defense played as good as it could. We didn't give them time to throw the ball downfield."
Auburn's much-maligned offense, which had produced only three points in the Tiger's two previous games, exploded for six touchdowns and 483 yards of offense vs. the Commodores. Quarterback Jason Campbell passed for 220 yards, and Auburn's three-headed tailback monster led a Tiger rushing attack that produced 219 yards.
Meanwhile Vanderbilt's offense never got untracked. Auburn's cat-quick line and linebackers made a living in Vanderbilt's backfield and forced three turnovers. The Commodores were held to only two first downs and 55 offensive yards in the first half.
"Auburn did a great job on screen plays, reverses and options, and that's due to their linebackers coming up and disrupting our offense," Johnson said.
The game stayed scoreless for a quarter, as both teams came out sluggish on offense. Auburn mounted the game's first scoring threat late in the quarter when it drove to the Vandy 7, but placekicker John Vaughn missed a chip-shot 23-yard field goal.
But Auburn would break its 2003 touchdown drought with 12:03 left in the first half when Jeris McIntyre took a Campbell pass and bounced off a couple of Vandy defenders for a 31-yard scamper. Vaughn converted the PAT to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
Auburn would tack on seven more on its next possession on an 8-play, 63-yard drive, capped by a three-yard Carnell Williams scoring run. The Tigers then converted a recovery of Kwane Doster's fumble on the Vandy 21 into a 22-yard Vaughn field goal. The Tigers would take a 17-7 lead into halftime.
Vanderbilt's only score came early in the second half when Jay Cutler connected with Erik Davis for a 39-yard pass. Davis made a smooth adjustment to come back and catch a ball not thrown particularly well; a defensive interference penalty on the play was declined. (Davis has caught a touchdown pass in all three of the Commodores' games this season.)
But any momentum the Commodores had was stolen on Auburn's next possession, when Jeris McKenzie snagged an out pass from Campbell, put a move on Vandy defender Cheron Thompson, and took off down the sideline for a score.
From that point on, most everything the Plainsmen tried on offense worked. The outcome became mostly academic when Ronnie Brown hit paydirt from one yard out to give Auburn a 31-7 lead with 8:45 left in the third quarter. Sophomore tailback Tre Smith, generally considered the Tigers' fourth-best back, scored two more touchdowns to stretch the lead to 45-7
In the fourth quarter Vandy inserted second-string quarterback Benji Walker, who threw an interception on his only pass attempt. Steven Bright guided the team on two meaningless fourth-quarter series, and moved the second-string offense fairly well against Auburn's second-teamers.
A crowd of 37,703 showed up to watch the one-sided affair. The color of orange was prominent in the stands, as the Tigers may have had a 60-40 edge in fans present.
The Commodores go on the road for the first time this season next Saturday to play TCU in Fort Worth, Tex. Gametime is set for 6 p.m. CT.
Senior Dan Murphy, a walk-on from Shaker Heights, Ohio and one of the blockers on the wedge for the kickoff team, appeared to be seriously injured on a kickoff return in the first half. The game was stopped with 6:24 left in the half as Murphy was gingerly removed on a stretcher and taken to Vanderbilt Medical Center. He was diagnosed with a severe concussion, but was dismissed to rejoin the team after the game.
Defensive end Robert Dinwiddie was moved to tackle for this game to replace Ralph McKenzie, who sat out the game with an injured ankle. Dinwiddie gained his first start since last season.
Chancellor Gordon Gee, who earlier in the week had announced a sweeping reorganization of Vanderbilt's athletic department, was a halftime guest on the Commodore Radio Network broadcast. "I have every confidence we are doing the right thing, and I'm as confident as can be," Gee said.