AUBURN — If a tree falls in the forest, well you know the rest of the theoretical question.
Change some words out and pose it thusly — does Auburn’s 51-7 beatdown of FCS-school Alabama A&M in front of an unenthused announced crowd of 74,832 at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday afternoon change anything?
Auburn (3-8, 0-7 SEC) is experiencing its worst season in 60 years and on track to finish winless in the SEC for the first time since going 0-6 in conference in 1980.
“Today was just a great day to go out and play football,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “All the other stuff, I’m just glad we had the chance to go out there and play football with (Alabama) A&M and have fun doing it.”
Fun may have been had by Chizik, who has been the target of scrutiny for weeks for the program’s cataclysmic fall from grace since winning the 2010 BCS National Championship.
With Auburn president Jay Gogue reiterating his stance that he’ll evaluate the program at the end of the season following Friday’s board of trustees meeting — will a dominant victory over an undermanned opponent matter at all? Does Chizik feel the need to make a statement in what could have been his final home game at Jordan-Hare or in next week’s Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa?
“I’ve already addressed all that stuff,” said Chizik, who has only repeated that it’s not about him and his focus is only the next game to any inquiry regarding his job security.
On Saturday, Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb each broke the 100-yard mark for the second time in three games. Mason had 12 carries for a career-high 181 yards with two touchdowns, and McCalebb had 15 carries for 104 yards with two touchdowns as Auburn had 341 rushing yards and five rushing scores.
The Tigers had 512 total yards — the most since gaining 519 against Oregon in the 2010 title game. It was the highest scoring performance for Auburn since scoring 56 against South Carolina in the 2010 SEC Championship.
But how much do stat-padding performances against New Mexico State and Alabama A&M matter to the big picture?
Auburn scored on all five of its first-half possessions.
Mason scored on a 19-yard run on the game-opening drive to make it 7-0 with 10:41 to go in the first quarter. After the Tigers defense forced a three-and-out McCalebb had his turn, capping a seven-play 60-yard drive with an unscathed 19-yard score of his own.
“I give all my credit to the offensive line and the receivers and the quarterback,” said McCalebb, who notched his sixth career 100-yard game. “They go out there and do their job and that leaves holes open for me to go out there and do the rest.”
After another three-and-out, Mason broke free for an 86-yard touchdown, the longest of his career, to make it 21-0 with 14 seconds left in the first quarter. It was the fourth longest rushing play and seventh longest play from scrimmage in program history.
“It was really good to see him bust open a run that long,” Chizik said. “I think he’s just gotten better as the season’s gone on. I thought the offensive line covered people up well enough today to give him some cracks and be able to run the ball. I think Tre has become a more physical runner.”
Jay Prosch plowed in for a three-yard touchdown run, his second of the season, and freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace connected with Sammie Coates for a nine-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left in the first half to make it 35-0 at the break.
“Playing a game like this, things are a little slower,” said Wallace, who went 10-for-18 for 171 yards with a touchdown and had five carries for 22 yards. “It really helps being able to go through your progressions, I’ll say that. It really helps you in a sense to be able to go through your progressions in a way that you’re able to go through each progression that you need to.”
Alabama A&M (7-4, 6-3 SWAC) managed to break the shutout when Deaunte Mason (17-for-28 for 186 yards with seven carries for five yards and a TD) scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak early in the third quarter.
McCalebb added another scoring run, a 14-yard trot, in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to make it 42-7, and the Tigers got a safety on a botched punt by the Bulldogs midway through the fourth.
Trent Fisher scored on a 60-yard interception return for touchdown with 2:38 to go for the game’s final margin. It was the first interception by the Auburn defense since Daren Bates intercepted Tajh Boyd in the season opener — a span of 612 minutes, 15 seconds in regulation.
It was the final home game for 13 Auburn seniors and it may very well have been the last time Chizik calls Jordan-Hare home as well.
“The bottom line is getting the win, so overall, it was a good day,” Chizik said.