Cambridge, MA - Perfection. – Auburn, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - Cameron Artis-Payne ran for 129 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries as 16th-ranked Auburn posted a 31-7 win over Samford at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Tigers overcame a sluggish start and eight penalties to pull away from the FCS-level Bulldogs and halt a two-game skid as they enter next Saturday's Iron Bowl showdown with No. 2 Alabama.
Nick Marshall threw for 171 yards on 11-of-18 passing with one touchdown and an interception for Auburn (8-3), which also received rushing scores from Quan Bray and Roc Thomas.
"I am happy to get win number eight," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "We knew they were going to play hard and play their guts out, and they did."
Michael Eubank completed 15-of-29 throws for 125 yards and one touchdown for Samford (7-4), but was intercepted twice during a second half in which the Bulldogs were held scoreless.
"We played a really good team," said Eubank. "I feel like there are a lot of plays that we left out there, a lot of things we could have converted on, a lot of things we could have done better."
The Tigers appeared to be looking ahead to next week's rivalry game with the Crimson Tide early on, as Auburn mustered a paltry 36 yards of offense while being held scoreless over its first four drives.
Those struggles enabled Samford to grab a 7-0 edge midway through the second quarter, with Eubank skillfully directing a 7-play, 74-yard series in which the Arizona State transfer completed all five of his throws and capped the trek with a 7-yard strike to Tony Philpot.
The touchdown seemed to finally wake up the Tigers, as Marshall hit Sammie Coates deep for a 49-yard gain on the next snap from scrimmage. Two plays later, Bray took a jet sweep along the left side 23 yards to the end zone.
Samford was then held without a first down on two straight possessions, and Auburn put up points on its next two to take a 17-7 lead into the half.
Four straight running plays that totaled 39 yards had Auburn inside the Bulldogs' 10-yard line, though Samford was able to limit the damage to a 29- yard Daniel Carlson field goal that sent the Tigers in front.
A 40-yard connection from Marshall to Bray on Auburn's subsequent drive had the Tigers at the Samford 16 with a minute to go in the second quarter. Shortly afterward, Artis-Payne bounced a shotgun handoff outside and followed his blocks for a 7-yard touchdown that extended the margin to 10 points.
The Bulldogs had a chance to make it a one-score game after moving deep into Auburn territory on their initial drive of the second half, but Warren Handrahan misfired on a 34-yard field goal try to keep it a 17-7 differential.
It was Samford's last good scoring opportunity of the night, as Auburn's defense shut down Eubank and the Bulldogs' attack the rest of the way and the Tigers increased their lead on the ensuing drive.
Marshall hit on 3-of-4 attempts in engineering a 10-play, 80-yard sequence he kept alive with a 27-yard strike to Melvin Ray on third down, then later completed with a swing pass that Corey Grant took 13 yards into the end zone.
Thomas accounted for Auburn's final touchdown with a 1-yard run with 8:44 remaining, ending a 65-yard possession in which 11 of the 12 plays came on the ground.
The Tigers totaled 76 yards in penalties ... Samford is coached by Pat Sullivan, who won the 1971 Heisman Trophy as an Auburn quarterback ... Tigers wide receiver D'haquille Williams sat out a second straight game with a knee injury ... The schools have faced one another 28 times but only four since World War II, with Auburn outscoring the Bulldogs by a 156-30 count in those games ... Samford fell to 2-75-3 all-time against current members of the Southeastern Conference, including an 0-27-1 mark versus Auburn.