Auburn extended its Homecoming winning streak to 21 games while ending its 2012 losing streak at five in a matchup of teams that came into the contest with 1-7 records.
The game also was the 76th consecutive victory for an Auburn team when the Tigers put at least 30 points on the scoreboard, something they had done just once previously this year, and it took overtime to get there vs. ULM.
The offense was sparked by the first collegiate start of true freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace, who helped rally the offense from a slow start as he hit 9-16 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown.
The Tigers also got a spark from their tailbacks. Tre Mason ran the ball 22 times for a career-best 152 yards and he scored a touchdown.
Tre Mason runs into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game.
Senior Onterio McCalebb, who got just one carry the previous week, took advantage of his eight carries to produce 113 yards and two touchdowns. His average on the day was 14.1 yards per run as he moved past Stacy Danley into ninth place for career rushing yards in Auburn history.
The defense stepped up its performance, too, and had a chance for a shutout until the fourth quarter. After getting torched time after time on third downs the previous week vs. Texas A&M, the Tigers allowed the visitors to convert just 2-13 third down opportunities.
Also big for the defense was its first scoring play of the season as Demetruce McNeal's hit on New Mexico State quarterback Andrew Manley caused a fumble that Daren Bates picked up and ran 62 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Bates got into the end zone thanks to a powerful stiff arm on his run that excited his teammates and the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd.
"How he finished that play, when he took that guy with that physical effort (stiff arm), to me that was as valuable as anything that happened on that play because with physicality we have a long way to go," said defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said.
"The main event today was that our football team went out and competed, and after last week you had to worry about that from a psychological standpoint on where we were," VanGorder added. "I am proud of the guys for going out and giving the effort they did."
Senior wide receiver Emory Blake said everybody on the offense was on a mission to step up and help Wallace be successful in his first college start. "I thought he did great," said Blake, who added he wasn't surprised that his young teammate rose to the occasion.
Wallace said he could feel the support. "Some guys really stepped up this week," the quarterback said, noting that one of those guys was Brandon Fulse, who got plenty of playing time with C.J. Uzomah joining Philip Lutzenkirchen on the injury list. "Brandon was the only true tight end we had this week. He really stepped up to the plate."
The freshman noted that his job was made easier by a good performance from the offensive line and the running backs.
However, Wallace added that the offense, which only scored seven points in the first half, needs to come out stronger. "We can't do that next week," he said of the slow start. "We are going to work this week on just being able to come out hot. You know, come out on fire and just go with everything."
Mason agreed with Wallace that the offensive line had a good day. The Tigers finished the contest with a season-best 311 yards at an average of 6.9 yards per carry. "The offensive line played great," the sophomore tailback said. "You just can't pick out one guy. They all played their hearts out. They did everything they were supposed to do and we were able to execute."
With the Tigers starting a true freshman QB the visitors tried to take away the running game from Auburn, often playing nine defenders close to the line of scrimmage. The strategy worked early, but after halftime the Tigers gashed the Aggies by finding a way to deal with nine men in the box.
"They ran some counters at us," New Mexico State coach Dewayne Walker pointed out. "I thought their running backs did a great job with their cut-back runs."
Auburn's head coach, Gene Chizik, agreed with Walker. "We had to stick with it," he said of the running game. "We went back to some counter game and some things where we thought, even with the eight or nine guys down there, we still had an opportunity to stick the ball up there and run it.
"Sometimes they had to make a guy miss that was unblocked or what-not, but they (Mason and McCalebb) ran the ball well," the coach added.
Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler agreed that those plays were important to get the running attack moving into high gear. "We came out in the second half and made some adjustments running the weakside counter and we ran the play quite well," Loeffler said. "It was good to see those kids have success. It was good to see T. Reed (Trovon Reed) get in the end zone and I think Jonathan improved as the game went on."
Defensively, McNeal was active. The junior safety led the Tigers in tackles with nine solos and one assist. He added two tackles for lost yardage with a sack, forced a fumble and recovered another one. Jake Holland was the No. 2 tackler with three solos and four assists.
Sluggish is the proper description of Auburn's offense in the opening quarter. On AU's initial series, Mason and Wallace botched a handoff on the first play. Mason was able to get on the loose ball at the Tigers' nine-yard line.
Auburn didn't manage to make a first down until its third possession when Wallace hooked up with Sammie Coates for a 13-yard gain. On the next play Wallace hit Blake for 17 yards, but the Tigers got greedy and Wallace was intercepted when he underthrew a deep ball to Coates that was picked off at the two-yard line.
With Auburn's defense having success on third downs, the Aggies weren't able to get on the scoreboard in the first half. New Mexico State was unable to convert a fourth down and long one to go at the Auburn 30 and missed a 47-yard field goal try later in the second quarter.
Auburn finally put together a scoring drive by moving 89 yards on 13 plays. The Tigers kept the football for nearly seven minutes before Mason scored from five yards out on a power run up the middle.
On the drive, which was the longest of the year for the Tigers until being surpassed in the second half, Auburn did most of its damage on the ground. Mason carried the ball six times for 38 yards on the possession. Wallace converted a third down and five with an eight-yard scramble to get the drive started and Jay Prosch rumbled for four yards on a third and two at the AU 45.
At the half the Tigers totaled 140 yards with 90 coming on 19 running plays. The visitors kept the football for 34 plays in the half, five more than the home team, and netted 178 yards with 113 coming through the air as Andrew Manley hit 10-18 passes.
Jay Prosch made plays to start and finish the opening possession of the third quarter. The fullback recovered a fumble by Onterio McCalebb on the kickoff.
Auburn then put together a strong drive, moving 80 yards on seven plays with Mason and McCalebb making good yardage on counter plays.
Fullback Jay Prosch celebrates his first college touchdown.
Exactly three minutes later the lead jumped to 21-0 with the most impressive play of the season for the defense. McNeal's hit on the Aggies' quarterback knocked the football forward. Bates picked it, weaved through traffic and ran 62 yards for score. On the way to the end zone he flattened New Mexico State's top running back (Germi Morrison) with a stiff arm.
After a review of the play the touchdown stood and Auburn was in command the rest of the way.
McCalebb stretched the lead to 28-0 later in the third quarter when the Tigers moved the football 96 yards in seven plays. McCalebb showed his quickness on a 38-yard burst around right end that was perfectly blocked by his teammates.
The Aggies finally got on the scoreboard with 12:36 left in the fourth quarter by moving 69 yards on six plays. Austin Franklin got 51 of the yards on a catch and run on a pass over the middle.
Auburn responded with its first fourth quarter touchdown of the season just over a minute later.
McCalebb's kickoff return of 45 yards gave the home team great field position at the AU 45. On the next play Mason just missed going for a big gainer, but netted eight yards. On the following play he ran for 40 yards at right end giving the Tigers first and goal at the seven.
The left side of the offensive line then allowed McCalebb to run into the end zone untouched to make the lead 35-7.
Auburn scored on its next possession, too, moving 77 yards on six plays. Wallace hit freshman wideout Ricardo Louis for a 21-yard gainer and then had his first TD pass of the day on a 40-yard play to Trovon Reed, who was wearing No. 37 to honor the memory of his friend and former teammate, LaDarius Phillips, who was shot and killed last summer.
"I think I might wear No. 37 from now on," the sophomore receiver said, noting that he dedicated the game to the player, who he said was a great friend, as was as Phillips' family.
"It was really good to see Trovon do that," Chizik said. "We were working the mike linebacker over on a little route we thought we could get him open on. It was really good to see what he did with the ball in his hands after the catch, and we have been waiting on that from Trovon."
Next on the schedule for Auburn is a return to SEC play with Georgia visiting Jordan-Hare Stadium for a 6 p.m. Central game next Saturday.