Derek Mason’s defense will be eating wings after posting a shutout against Alabama State.
“I was happy because that means a lot for us,” said linebacker Zakoby McClain on the shutout. “We were supposed to have it last week, so now coach said he’s gonna get us some wings.”
The Tigers defeated Alabama State 62-0 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn on Saturday, behind a strong defensive performance and a second-half surge of offense. The 62-point win was the largest margin of victory in Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin’s career.
It was also the largest shutout victory for Auburn since 1996, when the Tigers blanked Fresno State, also with a score of 62-0.
“Just to get the goose egg on the defensive side, that was a great deal for our defense,” Harsin said. “I thought we tackled well, Zakoby in particular. He’s got a great feel for the run game. He’s really almost playing tailback on the defensive side. He sees the hole, he’s able to hit it.”
McClain was Auburn’s leading tackler, with 10 total tackles. It’s his eighth career game with double-figures tackling and the 10th time he’s led the team in tackles.
Not only was the defense on top of their game, but special teams also had their moments. The Tigers had it all on special teams and defense: a blocked punt, a blocked field goal, a fumble recovery and a pick-six.
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The showcase began in the first quarter when Alabama State faced a fourth-and-two from its 44-yard line. The Hornets were lined up to punt the ball to Auburn, who led 3-0.
Barton Lester blocked the punt and recovered his block, the second of his career.
“The blocked punt was huge,” Harsin said. “I thought we did a good job in that area.”
It led to another Anders Carlson field goal, which put the Tigers up 6-0 by the conclusion of the first quarter.
Alabama State was only able to move the ball downfield consistently on one drive, which came in the second quarter. Trailing 13-0, the Hornets had worked deep into Auburn territory, just six yards from the end zone with a fresh set of downs to work with.
Colby Wooden stopped the quarterback keeper on first down for a gain of one yard. Bydarrius Knighten broke up the pass to the end zone on second down. Alabama State’s Ryan Nettles completed a pass to his receiver, Terrance Ellis, on third down, but Ellis was quickly tackled by Auburn's Roger McCreary short of the goal line.
It brought up fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line and the Hornet field goal unit trotted onto the field.
On the field goal attempt, Nehemiah Pritchett was on the outside edge, in what Harsin calls the “touchdown corner.”
The name is well-deserved after the field goal was blocked by Wooden and the ball kicked out to the right side of the field. Pritchett scooped it up and took it 80 yards for a touchdown.
“I saw all the green grass,” Pritchett said. “I was like ‘Nobody’s catching me with all that field.”
Pritchett noted that scoring on blocked field goals is something the team has worked on a lot in practice. It was the first blocked field goal for a touchdown since Neiko Thorpe did in 2009 against Kentucky.
“We felt like we had a shot of getting that," Harsin said. "Those are things you practice throughout the week. You kind of create that situation at practice and you simulate it, you go through it for the moment that we had in this game."
With an offense that got off to what Harsin called a “sluggish” start in the first half, defense and special teams continued to pick their teammates up.
“That offense was in a bind, they were struggling a little bit,” said cornerback Roger McCreary. “We just kept talking to the offense like ‘You got this.”
The offense did, scoring 35 points in the third quarter. It tied the Auburn record for most points in a quarter and set the record for most third-quarter points in a game.
McCreary got his fair share of scoring in the quarter as well, with a 35-yard interception returned for a touchdown.
“That play, they had done it like three times in the first or second quarter,” McCreary said. “We talked about it at halftime, it was like recognizing the formation, pre-snap recognition. When the receiver did the same thing they did three times, that’s when I knew [the ball] was gonna come.”
It was the first time that Auburn had a blocked punt and blocked field goal in the same game since the 2013 Iron Bowl.
“If we can go make big plays on special teams, create some momentum, that helps our team,” Harsin said. “That’s what happened today. We created momentum on special teams, on defense, on offense, everybody got rolling together. When you have that, you have the chance to go put up big points and make big plays and finish a game like we did.”
The Tigers will next travel to University Park, Pennsylvania, for a Top-25 matchup with No. 11 Penn State. It’s the first time the two schools will meet in the regular season, with the game being broadcast on ABC on Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. CST.
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