Washington State traveled to Auburn, AL., Saturday largely to get a payday, but they paid the price by losing 31-24 Saturday night, a victim of two big plays. Tre Mason returned a kick-off 100 yards and Corey Grant scored on a 75-yard run as the Tigers won in Gus Malzahn’s debut as Auburn’s head coach.
Robenson Therezie also picked off two passes, including one in the end zone with less than five minutes remaining, for the Tigers (1-0). Auburn managed just two interceptions during last season’s 3-9 debacle.
The Malzahn vs. Mike Leach matchup of offensive innovators produced plenty of big plays and drama.
The Cougars (0-1) had two chances to tie it in the final five minutes, but Therezie’s interception and an incompletion on fourth down ended the threats.
Auburn junior college transfer Nick Marshall was 10-of-19 passing for 99 yards in his starting debut. He also ran for 27 yards and made some plays after eluding the rush but didn’t appear comfortable early after having only preseason camp to learn the offense and win a four-man competition.
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday went 35-for-65 for 344 yards and a touchdown but was also intercepted three times.
Grant, who walked on after transferring from Alabama, gained 29 yards on seven carries.
The Cougars, coming off a 3-9 season in Leach’s first year, had two chances to tie it in the final five minutes. Therezie picked off his second pass of the game, this one in the end zone.
Deone Bucannon recovered Mason’s fumble at midfield with 4:06 to play. Teonday Caldwell converted one fourth-and-5 with a 13-yard run, but Halliday overthrew a well-covered Dom Williams a couple of minutes later.
Auburn ran out the clock after that.
The Tigers stuck to the ground in Malzahn’s no-huddle offense, gaining 297 yards on 45 rushes. Washington State produced 464 yards on 88 plays, most of them passes. Gabe Marks had nine catches for 81 yards for the Cougars.
Cody Parkey had field goals of 47, 26 and 42 yards for the Tigers.
The teams traded big plays, including four touchdowns in a span of 1:56 in a first half that ended with Auburn ahead 25-21.
Halliday hit Bobby Ratliff for a seven-yard touchdown and found Ratliff on a 53-yard gain to set up Jeremiah Laufasa’s one-yard score, one of his two TD runs on the day.