AUBURN, Ala. — No. 8 Auburn's tailback of the future might have just moved his timetable up.
Freshman Ben Tate ran for 156 yards to carry a hobbled running game and Brandon Cox passed for 212 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers' 38-13 win over Tulane on Saturday.
Tate shouldered most of the rushing load with starter Kenny Irons sitting out to rest a gimpy ankle and backup Brad Lester aggravating a nagging groin injury early.
"I just think it's about the coaches finally having confidence in me," said Tate, who had only 11 carries for 119 yards coming into the game. "Now that I showed them what I can do, I don't think they'll really hesitate too much to put me in the game."
They might not have a choice.
The Tigers (7-1) were hoping to avoid a letdown following a victory over then-No. 2 Florida last week, and succeeded mostly due to forcing three turnovers in a game featuring short-handed offenses that put up plenty of yards.
Lester started but played only sparingly, catching a 36-yard pass and rushing for a 2-yard touchdown on the opening drive but only getting two carries after that.
Tulane (2-5), playing without two injured starters at receiver, has now lost its last 31 games against ranked opponents dating back to 1982.
Cox was 16-of-19 passing and was almost flawless in the first half, when he went 12-of-13 for 161 yards and two touchdowns. The only incompletion was a dropped pass by a wide-open Tre Smith, who would have been in a foot race for a 73-yard TD on the play.
"It's the best I've felt all year," Cox said. "That was my best game."
Tate ran 26 times and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
He might have gone from a potential redshirt to No. 1 if the other backs can't go against Mississippi.
"Kenny is still hobbling around. Brad is going to be hobbling," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I don't know how much playing time (Tate) will get. He might be the starter next week. It just depends on what happens."
Auburn held out guard Tim Duckworth (knee) and fullback Carl Stewart (strained calf) and center Jason Bosley also went down with a knee injury. Tuberville said he wouldn't know the status of Bosley, subbing for an injured Joe Cope, until Sunday.
"Those injuries are getting pretty serious going down the stretch here," he said.
The Green Wave had a chance to pull within a touchdown in the third quarter but receiver Preston Brown fumbled at the Auburn 5, ending a 92-yard drive.
The Tigers then drove 87 yards and scored on Cox's 23-yard pass to Courtney Taylor for the receiver's first touchdown of the season, making it 31-10.
Auburn had another touchdown set up by a fumbled shotgun snap by Lester Ricard at the 10 in the first half and an interception by Zach Gilbert stopped another late threat.
"Every time you make a mistake on them, that's a sign of a great football team when they capitalize on it," Tulane coach Chris Scelfo said. "They caused a lot of havoc for us."
Tulane's offense caused some havoc in gaining 389 yards, the most allowed by the nation's fifth-ranked scoring defense this season.
"We left a lot of points on the field today," receiver Damarcus Davis said.
Ricard completed 20 of 39 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown. Preston Brown caught nine passes for 139 yards and Davis gained 126 yards on eight catches. Matt Forte rushed for 117 yards for his third consecutive 100-yard game.
"That's probably the best quarterback we've seen this year," Tuberville said. "He put it on the money and we couldn't get any pressure in the first half.
"We gave up too many big plays on defense."
Even short-handed, Auburn's offense was more effective. The Tigers' 432 yards was the most since their season opener against Washington State, when they had 484.
Auburn led 24-10 at halftime, thanks partly to a pair of improbable field-goal opportunities in the last 15 seconds.
First, Tuberville opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 32, but Cox was stopped for no gain on a sneak.
Auburn's defense held Tulane to a 21-yard field goal by Ross Thevenot with 15 seconds left. Then, Thevenot's squib kick went right to tight end Tommy Trott - who earlier caught a 27-yard touchdown pass - and he returned it to midfield with 10 seconds to play.