"The gray lady on Graymont" mirrored the days of old in hosting Auburn and Memphis on Tuesday afternoon. With 59,430 people looking on -- a Birmingham Bowl record -- the Tigers faced off in the old, run-down and, yes, literally gray stadium at Legion Field.
For the Auburn Tigers, a first-half two-interception performance from freshman quarterback Sean White's ignited a Twitter mockery. For the Memphis Tigers, it was the struggles of highly-touted junior signal-caller Paxton Lynch's that made headlines. In full, Auburn emerged with the 31-10 victory.
"I'm just really happy for our players -- they played very well today," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "Our defense was outstanding, our offense in the second half really took the game over, but I'm extremely happy for our seniors to get these guys out with a bowl win."
In the days and hours leading up to kickoff, speculation about the replacement for Will Muschamp at defensive coordinator surrounded Auburn. Kevin Steele, the former Alabama staffer and LSU defensive coordinator, was rumored to get the job, but on a day that showcased Auburn's finest showing on the defensive side, that speculation was put to the side -- kind of.
The game took shape as the battle of the interims in Auburn interim defensive coordinator Lance Thompson got the best of Memphis interim offensive coordinator (and interim head coach) Darrell Dickey. Auburn led off the contest with a field goal on an opening 11-play drive and followed that up with a touchdown from the wildcat formation by freshman running back Kerryon Johnson.
Much was expected of Memphis' Lynch in the second and third quarters, but an interception thrown in the third -- only his fourth of the season -- derailed the Tigers' chance of producing any spark.
In the second half, White was replaced in spots by Jeremy Johnson. The 6-foot-6 junior quarterback from Montgomery scored a touchdown on his first pass from scrimmage and furthered Auburn's lead. It was his play, and the 126-yard rushing day for Jovon Robinson, that led to Auburn's victory.
"I think my performance throughout the last part of the season was a testament to my work ethic during the summer and the spring," Robinson said. "I had experienced a slight injury that hurt a little bit, but I feel like I had to support my teammates and just push through adversity."
On Johnson, Robinson added: "He's definitely a load to tackle, but I think I taught him a couple moves. But I'm glad for him, though, he's definitely deserving of what he did today."
After the game, there were headlines. Between the incident with Memphis player Reggis Ball stealing a football and Malzahn's announcement that Steele would indeed be Auburn's defensive coordinator, though, you could sense the confidence in Malzahn.
It was a tumultuous year on the plains, certainly. But it's the win in Birmingham that he believes will translate to next season, a new season.
"The future is very bright," Malzahn said. "And I think you could see that today."