What To Watch: Auburn vs. San Jose State

Things to watch for Saturday's Auburn-San Jose State matchup at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn, Ala.--One of the areas of concern for the Auburn Tigers heading into the 2014 season was the lack of a proven pass rusher on the defensive line. With Dee Ford gone to the NFL and Carl Lawson out with a knee injury, the Tigers have been trying to find the right guy to provide that punch from the defensive end position in pass rush situations.

One game into the season Auburn is still searching for that guy after the Tigers struggled to get consistent pressure on Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen in a 45-21 win. Recording just one sack, from linebacker Cassanova McKinzy on a stunt, Auburn’s front four got pressure at times, but didn’t provide the push the Tigers will need down the road, according to Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson.

“We've got to look at that,” Johnson said. “We rotated a lot of different guys, looked at some different people at it. I still feel like we've got some guys that can really get it done, but the majority of our pressure in the second half came from blitzes and a couple of things we put in that odd package. But I think we've got to improve in that area.”

One thing to look for this week is a continued emphasis on substitutions up front for the Tigers. That means in passing situations you could see a grouping of Elijah Daniel, LaDarius Owens, Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams on the field with Davonte Lambert another option. With San Jose State quarterback Blake Jurich connecting on 88 percent of his passes last week, Auburn must take a step up in the pressure department if the defense hopes to be ready for challenges from Kansas State, Texas A&M, etc. down the road.

“We didn't get the kind of pressure we wanted, but Arkansas kept the tight end in and chipped him early, and chipped the other side with the back so both guys were getting doubled and chipped, and it cut off their pass rush," Johnson pointed out. "You adjust later on. You try to twist them in to get them in a little different area on a twist or something like that, but bottom-line, they did a good job trying to keep that edge pressure off.

"A couple of blitzes we brought we had a missed assignment," the coach said. "Could have had a sack easily on one of them so it was a lot of self-inflicted stuff, but I think we've got the right guys working in the pass rush, we've just got to get better."

Turning It Loose

Last week Nick Marshall only threw six passes in a 45-21 victory over Arkansas, but showed more poise in the pocket and improved mechanics in his few attempts. He should get more opportunities to air it out this week against a San Jose State defense that will likely stack the line of scrimmage to try to slow the powerful Auburn running game.

With a loaded group of receivers to work with it should be a chance to have a big day through the air for the senior quarterback in his first start of the 2014 season.

Who’s Next?

In his first career game with the Tigers, junior college transfer D’haquille "Duke" Williams had a monster receiving game with nine catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. There is no question that Duke is going to be a matchup nightmare for opponents, but they will have to pay more attention to him moving forward in the middle of the field. That should open up the outside guys to make big plays, setting the stage for Sammie Coates to have a productive night. After a subpar first game in the opener, look for Coates to break out in a big way against the Spartans.

Sammie Coates had a big-play opportunity in the opener, but didn't convert.

Back To The Wall

It was a rather uninspiring first game of the season at the linebacker position for the Tigers, something that has to be a concern for Johnson with veterans Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost manning the starting spots. While McKinzy put up some decent numbers with six tackles, two tackles for losses and one sack, he had plenty of other opportunities to make stops early and didn’t make the correct play.

The shocking stat was from Frost, who didn’t record a single tackle in the victory. Even though he did lead the team with three quarterback pressures, the junior has to get more involved at the line of scrimmage and do it in a hurry. While this week won’t be a classic linebacker game, expect Anthony Swain and freshman Tre Williams to get a longer look to see how they respond to extensive game action.

Lighting It Up

Auburn’s secondary will face a tough challenge on Saturday from 6-2, 191 sophomore receiver Tyler Winston. Coming off a big freshman season when he earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors after catching 58 passes for 858 yards and five touchdowns, Winston picked up where he left off with 10 grabs for 91 yards and two scores in the opener. A defensive back at the start of the 2013 season, the bulk of Winston’s production didn’t start until the fourth game last year.

Swervin Ervin A Threat For Tiger

Auburn had a strong start on special teams last week with Daniel Carlson doing a fantastic job both kicking and punting. Throw in a solid return day from Quan Bray on punts and it was a good start for the Tigers.

While Carlson averaged 53.3 yards on three punts, two of those got the benefit of good yardage on the ground. It’s going to be important to get good hang time this week with San Jose State featuring one of the top return men in the country, speedy Tyler Ervin.

In the season opener against North Dakota, Ervin returned two punts for 73 yards, one going 40 yards for a touchdown, to earn the College Football Performance Awards punt returner of the year. Twice last season he earned the honor as a kickoff return man.

Roc-ing and Rolling

Auburn’s running game hit its stride in the second half against Arkansas with Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant shouldering the load for the Tigers. Combining to run for 268 yards on 36 carries, the duo gave way late to redshirt freshman Peyton Barber, but there was no time for freshman Roc Thomas to get into the mix. That should change this week as Barber and Thomas could get an opportunity to get their feet wet in a college football game. A home run hitter who could also help on special teams, Thomas has the ability to bring something different to the table for the Tigers in the running game and it would be big to get off to a good start.

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