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Unpolished Tigers wipe ULM

AUBURN — There were questions about Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s hurry-up spread offense entering Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe.

Following a 34-0 blanking of the Warhawks on Saturday night, some of those remain unanswered.

The Tigers put up 406 yards on ULM, but 321 of those yards were from running backs Ben Tate (105 yards), Eric Smith (67 yards and one touchdown) and Brad Lester (52 yards). Quarterback Kodi Burns rushed for the other 67 yards.

“We felt like we could run the ball,” said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. “We just have to work on the throwing game. We didn’t have any continuity.”

Burns and fellow quarterback Chris Todd — the two shared playing time — combined for a meager 28 passing yards through three quarters, and 85 yards on a combined 13-of-27 passing by game’s end.

“We stink, and it’s my fault,” said Franklin. “We didn’t have good tempo, and we made a bunch of excuses. There’s a lot of blame to go around, but the number one blame goes to me.”

On two failed third down conversions, loud choruses of boos rained down from frustrated fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Burns and Todd just had a hard time getting settled.

“I never got in a rhythm,” said Todd. “We have to move the ball a little better and maybe take some more chances.”

Though the scoreboard read 34-0 at game’s end, the Auburn offense was shut out for the first 27:46 of the first half and didn’t come around until the defense and special teams had already built an early 14-0 cushion.

On the Warhawks’ first offensive play of the game, Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman blindsided quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster. Fellow defensive end Michael Goggans ran it in from the 9-yard line for the touchdown.

“First defensive play of the year, we got a fumble and scored a touchdown,” said Tuberville. “That’s the way it should be. That’s Auburn football.”

On its ensuing possession, ULM drove to the Auburn 34, but stalled out and punted.

The defense forced a three-and-out, and the Warhawks drove to the Auburn 21. But a 39-yard field goal attempt by Warhawks kicker Rudi Jabour sailed wide right.

Just before the end of the quarter, Auburn wide receiver Robert Dunn fielded a punt at the Tiger 34 and raced 66 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead.

It was the first time a Tiger returned a punt for a touchdown since Robert Baker did it against South Carolina in 1996.

The Tiger offense finally showed life late in the second quarter, driving to the Warhawks 16. On third-and-12, Todd found Dunn in the back of the end zone, but the officials ruled Dunn out-of-bounds. The review confirmed it, and Auburn settled for Wes Byrum field goal.

The second half continued the Warhawks’ trend of helping the Tigers with their own mistakes.

Warhawk running back Luther Ambrose fumbled the opening kick, and Auburn linebacker Spencer Pybus pounced on it at the ULM 30. Four plays later, Lester ran for a 3-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 24-0 and end the Warhawks’ comeback hopes.

“We actually gave them 21 of their 34 points with the punt return and two turnovers,” said ULM coach Charlie Weatherbie.

The score completed a trifecta for Auburn. It was the first time the Tigers scored on offense, defense and special teams since accomplishing the feat against the Warhawks in 2003.

Auburn’s final scoring drive showed an improved passing game. Todd completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Slaughter to close out the scoring.