On just the third play of the 2002 season, Cobb dropped back to pass before deciding to tuck the ball and run with a lot of room in front of him on a second down and six play after Carnell “Cadillac” Williams had raced for 17 yards and six more on the opening two plays of the game. Cobb made the first down with plenty of room to spare, but he fumbled the ball at the USC 41.
Daniel Cobb (16) and center Ben Nowland (55) are the two of the most experienced performers on the Auburn offense.
The home team made the Tigers pay a heavy price for the turnover. Five plays later USC senior quarterback Carson Palmer threw a 14-yard TD pass to his favorite receiver, Kareem Kelly, giving the home team a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the action.
“On the first one (fumble), I was trying to make that first down and I was really close to being down on the ground,” Cobb says. The quarterback says that a defensive player “made a really good play” with a direct hit on the football to knock it loose.
On the second fumble, on Auburn’s second touchdown of the game just before halftime, the senior QB admits that the Tigers were fortunate. He says the Tigers could have easily come up empty like Georgia did in Auburn’s victory in Athens, Ga., last November when a running play failed on the goal line with downs left but no time. Trailing the play, tailback Ronnie Brown scored after catching Cobb’s fumble in the air.
Auburn had 23 seconds left after using its second timeout of the first half to stop the clock after Brown ran for 10 yards to the Trojan two-yard line. On the next play, Brown netted a yard and used four seconds before the Tigers burned their final timeout of the half with 19 seconds left.
Auburn offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino and Tuberville instructed Cobb to throw the ball out of bounds if there wasn’t an open receiver or a clear path into the end zone on a rollout play. “I had Brandon (Johnson) and only two yards in front of me to the goal line so I felt like I could get it in there,” Cobb says. That was a miscalculation as Cobb was hammered before he could get to the goal line, popping the ball loose before Brown grabbed it out of the air and kept running until he pushed his way into the crowded end zone for a TD.
Cobb says he considered throwing a jump ball pass to his tallest receiver, tight end Robert Johnson, but decided there was too much traffic. Instead, he opted for an all or nothing running play. If he didn’t get the ball into the end zone, Auburn would trail 14-7 at halftime. The senior quarterback admits he was fortunate that Brown was there to prevent the turnover and tie the game 14-14 with 11 seconds left in the first half.
Tuberville says that Cobb’s passing needs to improve, too, but adds that the quarterback did some good things in the game and was correct almost all of the time in getting the Tigers out of bad plays with audibles at the line of scrimmage. However, the head coach says that the two fumble plays should never have happened. “He has to learn how to run with the ball,” says Tuberville, who adds that it is essential to Auburn’s offensive system that the quarterback run effectively when called on to scramble out of pocket or gain some yardage on a rollout plays.
Despite an uneven performance by Cobb, Tuberville says there are no plans to go to the bullpen for backup Jason Campbell, who made a brief appearance in the second half when he handed off the ball two times when Cobb was on the sideline after taking a finger to the face that opened an nasty gash next to his eye that was bleeding. Although the statistics crew at USC credited Campbell with completing a nine-yard pass to freshman receiver Anthony Mix, it was Cobb who threw the football.
Cobb and the Tigers will be looking to even their record at 1-1 with a 4 p.m. home game on Saturday vs. the Western Carolina Catamounts of the Division I-AA Southern Conference at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “They run a very interesting scheme where they run a lot of no huddle on offense and call all their plays from the line of scrimmage,” Tuberville says. “They run a lot of what we run defensively so there will be a lot of carryover.”
The Tigers and Catamounts have played just one time in football with Auburn taking a 55-6 victory on Oct. 4 1986 against a weak team. The 2002 version of the Catamounts is 1-0 after winning 23-3 on the road at Liberty last Saturday and should be significantly better than the club that was blown out by Pat Dye’s sixth Auburn team. First year head coach Kent Briggs, who graduated from WCU in 1979, inherited a veteran team that posted a 7-4 record last season.