September 16, 2017
Freshmen wide receiver Noah Igbinoghene finished with three catches for 24 yards and provided a spark for the Auburn offense.
By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn fans held their breath Saturday when starting right tackle Darius James went down with a neck injury in the second quarter of Saturday’s 24-10 win over Mercer. The senior had to be carted off the field and taken to East Alabama Medical Center for further evaluation.
However, James got a good report, per Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, and was back with the team in the locker room after the game.
“It was scary,” fellow offensive lineman Casey Dunn said. “It was really scary. But just to see him after walking around, it’s a blessing and some good relief for the o-line.”
Dunn, a graduate transfer from Jacksonville State, replaced James in the starting group. Center Austin Golson moved to right tackle, and Dunn took over for Golson as the team’s center. For Dunn, it was his first meaningful action for the Tigers this season.
“It’s humbling,” Dunn said. “I hate the circumstances that brought it out with D. James going down, but it’s fun getting to play in this environment for the first time at this level. I’ve got a lot of things to clean up honestly, but overall we got the win.”
Malzahn has talked about how adding Dunn and fellow grad transfer Wilson Bell has helped provide depth for Auburn on the offensive line. That was evident Saturday.
“Today, it was good to have a Casey Dunn come in there,” Malzahn said. “He’s a veteran guy at center. Austin Golson has played some tackle. He played left tackle some last year, but he has the ability to play right tackle, too. So we talked about the depth, and we needed it today.”
There’s no word on whether James will be available for next week’s game at Missouri, but Dunn says he’s ready if called upon.
On paper, Saturday looked like another dominant effort from the Auburn defense. The Tigers held Mercer to 10 points, an average of 3.7 yards per play, and when they needed a critical stop in the fourth quarter, they forced a three-and-out.
But the players were not happy with the effort after the game.
“We’re definitely not [satisfied],” defensive tackle Derrick Brown said. “Every single week, we’re not satisfied with what we put on tape. The thing about us is we’re going to go out there and work to get better every week.”
“We didn’t have as much energy as we usually have,” added safety Tray Matthews. “We’ve got some things we need to correct. We have some things we need to improve on. But we’ll definitely come out with a lot more energy for SEC play.”
The Auburn defense entered Saturday among the nation’s leaders in points (10.5) and yards (179.5) allowed per game, and though the Mercer game won’t change that, the unit knows that it has to step its game up now that conference play is arrived. The Tigers travel to Missouri next Saturday and follow that with Mississippi State and Ole Miss at home.
“We really have to prepare this week like we’ve never prepared before because the SEC play starts now,” linebacker Tre’ Williams said. “We’ve got to turn our level up a notch.”
Freshmen Noah Igbinoghene and Devan Barrett might not have led the team in yards or found the end zone Saturday, but both players provided a much-needed spark for the Auburn offense at different points in the game.
Following a Mercer field goal, Igbinoghene saw the field and caught back-to-back passes to help Auburn pick up a quick first down. He caught another pass later on the same drive and showed the speed and quickness that made him such a dynamic player at the high school level. Barrett also flashed his versatility, catching three passes out of the backfield for 17 yards.
The two true freshmen, who didn’t arrive at Auburn until the summer, showed glimpses of the potential that each have going forward.
Greg Ostendorf is a Staff Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @greg_ostendorf