AUBURN, Ala. — This resembled last season’s Auburn team for about three blurry minutes. Before that, the defending national champions could barely keep up with a supposedly overmatched Utah State team.
Mike Dyer bulled through the line for a game-saving touchdown with 30 seconds left and the 23rd-ranked Tigers scored twice in the final 2:07 to escape with an opening 42-38 win over the Aggies on Saturday.
And it showed against a team that probably should have been physically overwhelmed, but wasn’t. The Tigers still pulled off their fourth comeback from a double-digit deficit in the last 13 games – and allowed hundreds of celebrating fans to head to Toomer’s Corner to roll the once-stately, now sickly oak trees that were allegedly poisoned by an Alabama fan.
“As they’ve done so many times since I’ve been here, they found a way to come back and win,” Chizik said. “That’s kind of been instilled in this group that you never look at the clock and the scoreboard until it says zero-zero-zero.
First-time starting quarterback Barrett Trotter hit Philip Lutzenkirchen for a 15-yard touchdown to start a Cam Newton-like comeback. Then wide receiver Emory Blake collected the onside kick to set up the game-winning drive. Trotter completed three passes and Onterio McCalebb had runs of 10 and 14 yards to push the ball near the goal line.
Utah State twice led by double digits against a team clearly feeling the effects of the departures of numerous starters from last year’s national champions, including defensive tackle Nick Fairley and Heisman winner Newton, who repeatedly led the Tigers from behind during their 14-0 run last season.
Only that 24-point deficit against Alabama might have been a more improbable comeback than this one from 10 points down in the final 3:38. The Tigers came in as three-touchdown favorites, but also as a question mark with 19 new starters.
Trotter marched the Tigers downfield quickly before hitting an open Lutzenkirchen to keep them alive. He followed a 13-yard completion to Travante Stallworth with a 9-yarder to McCalebb and a 7-yarder to Lutzenkirchen, one of Newton’s favorite red zone targets last season.
“I don’t think you guys understand how much this hurts,” Turbin said. “When you’re up 10 four minutes to go and you lose, you’ve got the defending national champions on the ropes and you lose – the focus right now is to win. Period. That’s it. I don’t care about nothing else.”
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