AUBURN, Ala. — The weirdness started early Saturday morning on the Plains.
When Spirit was released from the northeast corner of the stadium during Auburn’s traditional pregame festivities, it seemed like the eagle might not land.
The bird circled one half of Jordan-Hare Stadium for more than a minute, emitting laughs from the Auburn football sellout crowd of 87,451.
It was a peculiar start to an even stranger day for the No. 9 Tigers, who defeated Vanderbilt 23-16. Auburn put the game just out of the Commodores’ reach after as senior defensive back Josh Holsey snagged his third interception of the season.
“There was more adversity today than any game I can think of,” head coach Gus Malzahn said after the win. “There might be some equal to that in the past. There was not a whole lot going right for us, and we won.”
- Things were unusual from the first drive, when John Franklin III made his first career start at quarterback in place of Sean White. Auburn announced the decision minutes before kickoff. Malzahn said after the win that White had missed practice all week and was suffering from a shoulder injury.
- Auburn’s linebacker unit — playing without injured Tre Williams — was dealt another tough blow in the first quarter. Deshaun Davis was ejected for targeting.
- Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s decision to call a trick play near the end of the first half wasn’t shocking. It was a puzzling move by a coaching staff that has tried to keep things simple of late.
- After halftime, White ran out of the tunnel and started warming up, leading his team onto the field at the start of the third quarter. The sophomore rocketed 5 consecutive completions and a touchdown to put Auburn ahead 17-13.
- Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham blocked Daniel Carlson’s fourth quarter field goal attempt by leaping over the line of scrimmage in a perfectly timed play.
There were other irregularities. The Tigers were penalized 5 times for 56 yards. Carl Lawson was the only defensive lineman with a sack.
“It was just one of those days. There wasn’t a whole lot that went our way,” Malzahn said. “Every time we turned around there was something against us. That’s what makes this win so good, that our kids overcame.”
Auburn didn’t self inflict all those oddities. Malzahn was quick to credit Vanderbilt.
“In every year that we’ve won a lot of games there has been a game like this where our guys found a way to win,” Malzahn said. “You’ve got to give Vanderbilt a lot of credit. They had a week off and were obviously fresh and very good, and took advantage of some situations. They’re a good team. They’re a really good team. I’m glad to have a victory. I’m glad to get number seven. I’m really proud of our team.”