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Tigers' fourth-quarter magic returns

Auburn found one way after another last season to pull out victories in the second half, usually in the fourth quarter, on its way to a national championship.

There won't be much talk of a repeat national championship in the aftermath of Auburn's shaky 42-38 victory against Utah State to open the season Saturday, but it's obvious the Tigers still have that fourth-quarter thing down.

Let's face it. There's a lot to be concerned about right now if you're an Auburn fan.

The No. 23 Tigers didn't tackle well on defense and gave up 227 rushing yards. They allowed four touchdown drives of 14 plays or longer, and on offense, never established any kind of consistent running game and obviously have a long way to go in their restructured offensive line.

But when it comes to making clutch plays in the fourth quarter to win the game, this team picked up right where it left off in January at the BCS National Championship Game.

Down 38-28 with 3:38 to play, Auburn avoided an embarrassing season-opening defeat by streaking 65 yards for a touchdown in a minute and a half and then recovering a perfectly executed onside kick.

Chris Brooks got a big, high bounce on his onside kick, and Emory Blake was there to grab it for the Tigers.

For the second consecutive drive, junior quarterback Barrett Trotter was the essence of poise, guiding the Tigers down the field for a Mike Dyer 1-yard touchdown run with 30 seconds remaining.

It was the ultimate escape.

Trotter, making his first career start, was clearly one of the highlights for the Tigers. He was 6-of-8 on those final two drives, including a 15-yard touchdown pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen to make it a 38-35 game, and looked like he'd been in that situation a hundred times before. He took what the defense gave him, didn't force anything and threw strikes.

Trotter finished 17-of-23 for 261 yards and three touchdowns and didn't throw an interception.

There were a ton of new faces on the field for the Tigers, including freshman running back Tre Mason, who returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

It's not a shocker that they struggled. They're probably going to struggle some more, especially the first half of this season.

After all, if Utah State can push Auburn to the brink at home, what's the rest of the SEC going to do to the Tigers? Utah State hasn't had a winning season since 1996 and was 0-43 all-time against nationally ranked teams coming into this game.

Obviously, this wasn't LSU venturing into Jordan-Hare Stadium ... or even Mississippi State, which comes to the Plains next week after piling up nearly 700 yards of total offense in a 59-14 pummeling of Memphis on Thursday.

The stakes go up considerably for Auburn from here on out, and so does the caliber of the opponent.

Gene Chizik knew that coming in, and he also knew this could be a team that takes its lumps early.

Judging by what we saw in those final three minutes Saturday, it's also a team that knows how to get it done when it counts.

And no matter how ugly it looked at times, the only thing that counts now is that Auburn has won 16 in a row, which remains the longest active winning streak among FBS teams.