TAMPA, FLA. — Auburn’s players embraced their chance to tribute a legend on Wednesday.
And win or lose, they represented Auburn and represented an Auburn great, playing the game that Pat Sullivan loved, played and coached, all throughout an indescribable life.
Auburn wore special alternate helmets Wednesday in the Outback Bowl with Sullivan’s No. 7 on them, and grey facemasks on them like the ones Sullivan used to wear during his stellar playing career at Auburn. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1971. He died in December as an Auburn icon and a towering figure in the sport in the state of Alabama.
“I was hyped up about that, man,” Auburn safety Jeremiah Dinson smiled after the loss. He said the players also get to keep the helmets they wore in the game, making for one more piece of the tribute that makes it special to them.
“The helmet was cool but we were doing it for Pat,” Dinson said. “I hated that we didn’t get the win today but I know he’s smiling down, just thinking the Auburn team was just fighting for him.”
The tribute marked a rare uniform switch-up for Auburn, and its first since 2007 when the team then wore grey facemasks with no logo decals in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Auburn’s 1957 national championship team.
Like Dinson said, the new look got the players excited — but not more than the chance to honor Sullivan’s lasting legacy.
Up and down special teams
Big swings on special teams helped decide the game.
Noah Igbinoghene ran in a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to give Auburn its first touchdown on the day making it 10-3, but moments later, a lost muffed punt by Christian Tutt led to Minnesota’s first touchdown three plays later to tie it 10-10.
Later, in the third quarter, Auburn went for a fake pass with punter Arryn Siposs throwing toward John Samuel Shenker out of punt formation, but the snap back to Siposs was high to throw off the play’s timing, and Minnesota was able to force an incompletion.
“We went in today, we talked about scoring, and that’s exactly what we did,” Igbinoghene said of his kickoff return and the special teams unit. “It’s all about the other guys. I just ran, because that’s what I do. It was a surreal moment, for real.”
His kickoff return marked Auburn’s first for a touchdown since Igbinoghene ran one in against Arkansas in 2018.
Johnson named MVP
Minnesota’s star receiver Tyler Johnson was named the game’s MVP, after a stellar performance. He caught 12 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns — with one of those scores coming on a 73-yard lighting strike that ended up being the game-winner early in the fourth quarter.
Johnson is a senior and a touted NFL Draft prospect.
“It’s a big-time player making a big-time play and I felt like that was the backbreaker right there, to be honest with you,” Dinson said.
Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman had three catches for 49 yards. They had both passed the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yards this season. They had Auburn’s attention — but their skills still shined on the big stage.
“I was telling you during the week, 6 and 13, and both of them had a good game today,” Dinson said, referring to their jersey numebrs. “So, respect to 6 and 13.
“They came today and they showed out today.”