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Backup RBs Tate, Lester lead No. 2 Auburn past Buffalo

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- No. 2 Auburn wasn't playing a highly ranked
team again, and it showed.

Without tailback Kenny Irons or much passing, the Tigers
eventually wore down Buffalo's defense and then used a late surge
for a 38-7 victory Saturday.

Favored by six touchdowns, Auburn (4-0) led by only 10 points
until late in the third quarter of a game sandwiched between a
physical 7-3 victory over No. 10 LSU and a Thursday game at South
Carolina.

While never really threatening an upset, Buffalo kept it respectable for much of the Bulls' game against No. 2 Auburn on Saturday. And while moral victories still hold no weight in the polls, Buffalo should feel good about itself, especially given its recent history compared with that of the Tigers. Here is how the two programs stack up since 2000.

Auburn
Buffalo

W-L

59-21

11-61

Win Pct.

.738

.153

Winning seasons

6

0

Longest win streak

15

2

"Guys were expecting to be up 30-0 in the first quarter,"
tailback Brad Lester said.

Instead, the Tigers plodded to a win that only looked effortless
on the final scoreboard. Lester ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns
in place of Irons. Freshman Ben Tate didn't play until the fourth
quarter, but ran for touchdowns of 42 and 28 yards and gained 114
yards on seven carries.

Irons watched his understudies from the sidelines with a
sprained toe and ankle, though the offense appeared to limp more
than him at times. Coach Tommy Tuberville said he and defensive
starters Jonathan Wilhite and Karibi Dede were held out as
precautions.

Auburn's conservative game plan helped the Bulls (1-3) keep it a
10-point game until the final minute of the third quarter. It
wasn't a particularly inspired performance from a team -- and a
crowd -- drained from last week's big victory.

"When you don't play with emotion, you don't play very well,"
Tuberville said. "And that's part of the equation. You can't play
with it every week. You could tell even with the crowd, everybody
was kind of still thinking about last week."

Buffalo was just thinking about hanging in there in its first
game against a Southeastern Conference opponent. The Bulls had not
played a team ranked higher than 23rd since moving up to Division
I-A in 1999.

How close was this one going into the fourth? The two teams each
had 13 first downs.

"We came here to play hard and we came here to win the football
game," first-year Buffalo coach Turner Gill said. "That's the way
I coach and that's the way our players play.

"That's what we talked about all week."

But Tre Smith ran for a 2-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left in
the third and Tate took over to finally allow Auburn a more
comfortable margin.

Brandon Cox was just 6-of-10 passing for 134 yards with an
interception for the Tigers, mostly content to hand off to a series
of backs. He left the game one drive into the fourth quarter, and
his mobility was hampered by a bruised left leg that was a remnant
from the LSU game.

Potentially needing a dominant showing to secure its hold on the
No. 2 spot, the Tigers sputtered to a 10-0 halftime lead. And that
only came with Robert Dunn's 35-yard punt return to set up a
46-yard field goal by John Vaughn on the final play.

"We kind of woke up in the second half," guard Tim Duckworth
said.

Tuberville had said he had no intention of running up a big
score just to impress poll voters. He didn't, instead letting his
team wear down the Bulls with the ground game.

The Tigers finished with 261 yards rushing against a defense
ranked next-to-last in Division I-A against the run.

Auburn's offense finally got going on the opening drive of the
second half, capped by Lester's 4-yard touchdown run, making it
17-0. Fullback Carl Stewart caught a pass in the flat and rambled
54 yards to the 14 to set up the TD.

Then the Bulls, pushing around a defense that held LSU to three
points last week, mounted a 15-play, 80-yard drive. Drew Willy
scrambled away from pressure and hit Evan Wallace for a 5-yard
touchdown on fourth-and-goal.

It was the first touchdown Auburn had allowed in a span of more
than 12 quarters dating back to the opener against Washington
State.

James Starks ran 20 times for 66 yards for Buffalo. Willy was
12-for-21 for 111 yards.

The Bulls had their chances in the first half to make it even
closer.

They had the ball in Auburn territory three times, failing on
fourth down, missing a 30-yard field goal and giving up two sacks
to kill another drive.

Tuberville said his players didn't need a tongue lashing at
halftime.

"There wasn't a lot of hollering and screaming," he said.
"They understood. You have to play with a lot more fire than what
we played."