AUBURN, Ala. (ULM Athletics) – A confident ULM football team arrived ready to spar at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Warhawks played Auburn even for most of two quarters Saturday afternoon before falling 42-14 to the nation's No. 6 team.
"We came out and got after them and competed really, really hard," ULM head coach Matt Viator said. "We were right there in it for a good while."
"We had on our mind, it doesn't matter who is in front of us," ULM receiver Brian Williams added. "We're going to come out and compete, no matter how big the school is or what their ranking is. They put their pants on like we put our pants on."
It wasn't just the 11 a.m. kickoff that kept the assembled 82,133 fans hushed for much of the first half. ULM tied the game at 7-7 early on and managed to hold serve until right before the break.
"We came in with it on our mind to be prepared for anything and give it all you've got," ULM free safety Roland Jenkins said. "We all feel as if we can compete with anybody in this country."
After Auburn (9-2) went up 7-0 on Kerryon Johnson's 8-yard run to open the game, ULM's offense countered with an impressive first drive of its own.
The Warhawks (4-6) moved 75 yards on 13 plays, finishing with a fourth-and-2 touchdown run by Williams on an end-around pitch from Derrick Gore. ULM flipped the field and reached scoring position on Evans' 36-yard pass to Gore to the Auburn 24.
"Our first drive was good," Williams said. "But after that, we got kind of stagnant. That put us in the hole because our defense was holding us up the whole first half. I feel like when the defense was producing those stops, if we could have put up some points, we could have had them on the ropes."
The defense rose to the occasion in the first half as Jenkins intercepted a Jarrett Stidham pass at the ULM 14 to halt Auburn's second drive.
Against a potent Auburn offense, ULM forced punts on three consecutive possessions before the Tigers went 96 yards on four plays to take a 14-7 lead into halftime. Stidham connected with Darius Slayton for a 50-yard touchdown pass with 1:27 left in the second quarter.
"I think we played very well in the first half," Jenkins said. "It just kind of got out of hand later on. Things happened here and there."
Auburn scored on its first series in the third quarter, needing 10 plays to cover 95 yards. Kam Martin's 1-yard touchdown run made it 21-7. The Tigers showcased their muscle by running on nine of the 10 plays.
After the tight first half, the second half belonged to the home team. Auburn scored 14 points off three ULM turnovers to pull away.
"We didn't do enough on offense really but give them credit," Viator said. "They're good. The three turnovers in the second half really hurt us."
Auburn outgained the Warhawks with 552 yards to 333.
After Auburn intercepted quarterback Garrett Smith at the ULM 43, Martin took a short pass from Stidham and turned it into a 41-yard touchdown reception to extend Auburn's edge to 28-7 with 2:46 left in the third quarter.
Smith, who relieved starting quarterback Caleb Evans in the third quarter, tossed a pick-six interception in the fourth quarter. Nick Ruffin returned the turnover 45 yards for a 35-7 Auburn lead.
Smith redeemed himself on his next opportunity as he rolled out and found Williams for a 70-yard touchdown pass, narrowing the margin to 35-14 with 5:41 to go in the game.
Malik Miller's 1-yard touchdown at the 2:58 mark accounted for the final 42-14 margin.
"You have to give those guys credit," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "They have a very good coaching staff."
No hard feelings: ULM's Roland Jenkins talked briefly to Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham after the game and heard encouraging words about his first-half takeaway.
"I spoke with the quarterback after the game," Jenkins said. "He was just congratulating me on it. He was saying that he thought he had me. He thought he could make that throw."
Jenkins also led the Warhawks with 10 tackles.
Playing keep away: ULM's high-octane return ace Marcus Green never got a chance to do his thing. Auburn's thunder-legged kicker Daniel Carson boomed six kickoffs for five touchbacks.
Green had one punt return for just 6 yards.
Postgame chatter: "It's not a moral victory. But we're excited about what we can do when we get everything rolling as a defense." – ULM's Roland Jenkins on the Auburn effort.
"I like the way that we compete hard. When you do, good things will happen." – ULM coach Matt Viator.
"We're going to learn from this, watch the film and get better," – ULM's Brian Williams.
Up next: ULM plays its final home game of the season on Nov. 25 against Sun Belt foe Arkansas State. Kickoff is 2 p.m. at Malone Stadium.
"It's a great opportunity for us. Appalachian State and Arkansas State have kind of been the gold standard in our league," Viator said. "We got an opportunity to play App State at home and we were fortunate enough to win. We'll have Arkansas State and they've got a really good football team. We're excited."
Enemy lines: Stidham completed 18-of-24 passes for 235 yards and two scores.
Johnson had 22 carries for 137 yards and a score, part of Auburn's 317-yard rushing attack. Johnson recorded his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season and 10th of his career.
Gus Malzahn improved to 20-1 in games where Auburn rushes for more than 300 yards
Auburn will be at home again next Saturday when No. 1 Alabama visits for the Iron Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT, and the game will be televised on CBS.
Tail feathers: ULM collected 11 first downs in the first half, converting on third down six times and scoring on a fourth-down conversion. … ULM wore its "Super Hawk" helmet decals with maroon facemasks, white jerseys and maroon pants. … Saturday's game was the 11th meeting between ULM and Auburn. The Tigers lead the all-time series 11-0, with all games played in Jordan-Hare Stadium.