AUBURN, Ala. For a few fleeting moments, it appeared Utah State might be celebrating the biggest win in program history, a road win over the defending BCS champion Auburn Tigers.
Instead, they were left wondering what might have been.
No. 23 Auburn (1-0) rallied from a 10-point deficit with two touchdowns in the final four minutes to stun the Aggies (0-1), 42-38, at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
In the defining moments, Auburn executed, and we couldnt execute, Aggies coach Gary Andersen said. I think if you sit down and look at it again, its not lack of effort or lack of want-to. It is tremendous athletes.
For much of the game the tremendous athletes appeared to be on Utah States side, as the Aggies largely dominated both lines of scrimmage in racking up 227 yards rushing and limiting Auburn to just 78.
I felt like we were stronger than them, inside linebacker Bobby Wagner said. I felt like we were faster than them. But I felt like they made plays when they needed to, and we didnt.
But after Utah State took a 38-28 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:38 remaining in the game, things quickly unraveled.
The Tigers drove 65 yards in six plays in just 1:31to pull within three on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Barrett Trotter to Philip Lutzenkirchen.
Auburn kicker Chandler Brooks then perfectly placed an onside kick to a leaping Emory Blake, giving the Tigers the ball near midfield.
I havent been in a situation like that since high school , Brooks said. This was big. I have been preparing for this for three years. We have worked on it and we executed.
You cant put it all on the coaches, Turbin said. We practice over and over with onside kick situations. I am on the hands team. We have been over it countless times and we just have to do a better job and be more prepared.
Eight plays and 1:37 later, Michael Dyer bulled into the end zone from a yard out to give the Tigers the lead and the win.
I thought the offense was basically exceptional all day long, Andersen said. They did exactly what they had to do to win the game. Special teams and defense at the end did not.
Utah State could take some positives from the game, however.
True freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton earned the starting nod, ending fall camps long signal-caller controversy. He then proceeded to play like a seasoned veteran, completing 21-of-30 passes for 213 yards and rushing eight times for 33 yards and a touchdown.
I really wasnt too nervous, Keeton said. I knew the guys around me had my back. I just came in as focused as I could be and tried to get the ball into our receivers hands.
He did a great job, Turbin said. Youre talking about an 18-year-old true freshman who is coming straight out of high school, and not only playing at the Division-I level, but being on the road and playing against the defending BCS national champions. To perform the way he did just shows that he has a great career ahead of him.
Turbin returned from missing the entire 2010 season with a solid effort, rushing 22 times for 70 yards and scoring twice.
Following the game, the theme that seemed to emerge for the rest of the Aggies season was finishing games.
We can compete with anybody, but if the defense continues to not step up when their name is called we are going to continue to lose like this, and I put that solely on my shoulders, Wagner said.
The biggest thing, now, is that we need to finish, Keeton said. We played three-and-a-half quarters and we just couldnt get the last half of the fourth quarter, so all we need to do is just finish. With this team we can definitely win the WAC championship.
A subdued Turbin, on the other hand, was eager to get back on the field and put the loss behind him.
For the rest of the season, the focus and mindset is going to be nothing else, but just to win, he said. I dont think you understand how much this game hurt, to be up 10 with four minutes to go with the defending BCS national champions on the ropes. The focus right now is to win, period.
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, for his part, was happy to escape with the win.
I was pleased with a very young team being able to fight through a lot of adversity and persevere through times that didnt look very good to be honest, but our kids as they have done so many times since weve been here they have found a way to come back and win, he said.
The Aggies will host Weber State next Saturday at 7 p.m., while Auburn will play host to Mississippi State.