StatTiger Column: Analyzing JSU at Auburn

Stuart Carter gives his take on Auburn's home opener matchup vs. Jacksonville State and predicts what will happen on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Quarterback Jeremy Johnson (above) will try to bounce back after throwing three interceptions in Auburn's season opener.

No. 6 Auburn (1-0) vs. Jacksonville State (1-0)

Series Record: First Meeting

About the teams:

John Grass of Jacksonville State University became a collegiate head coach last season, guiding the Gamecocks to a 10-2 record. Gus Malzahn is 30-10 all time and 21-7 at Auburn as a head coach.

Auburn is coming off a 31-24 victory over Louisville and Jacksonville State rallied late to win at Chattanooga, 23-20.

The Gamecocks won the Ohio Valley Conference in 2014 with an 8-0 league record, but were defeated during the second-round of the FCS playoffs.

Jacksonville State is 1-5 against the Southeastern Conference with its only victory against Ole Miss in 2010. Auburn is 2-0 vs. the Ohio Valley Conference.

Though this is the first meeting between the two programs other than when Auburn’s freshmen and junior varsity teams played games against the Gamecocks on three different occasions.

The Gamecocks return seven starters on offense and nine on defense. During the past two seasons Jacksonville State has compiled a 21-6 record, leaning heavily on a powerful run offense which ranked No. 4 at the FCS level in 2014.

JSU returns three of its top four rushers from 2014. The trio of Troymaine Pope, Eli Jenkins, and Miles Jones combined for 2,043 rushing yards last season. Pope ran for 173 yards during the season opener against Chattanooga.

The Gamecocks return their top four receivers from 2014 led by Josh Barge, who caught 56 passes for 919 yards.

Five of the Gamecocks’ top eight tacklers are back, including former Auburn defensive lineman Devaunte Sigler. The former Tiger recorded nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2014.

Peyton Barber is a redshirt sophomore for the Tigers.

Peyton Barber led Auburn in rushing against Louisville with 115 yards. Ricardo Louis had 97 total yards along with two touchdowns against Louisville.

Johnathan Ford (12), Tray Matthews (eight) and Kris Frost (eight) were Auburn’s top tacklers during the season opener for the Tigers.

How they match up...

During their last ten games against Power-5 opponents, JSU is 1-9 with an average score of 14-38.

Auburn is unbeaten in its last ten games against FCS competition with an average score of 45-13.

From the 1990-2014 seasons Auburn is 65-2 against opponents from non-major conferences. The average score during those 67 games is 40-13.

Auburn will have a huge advantage in talent and depth, which will force Jacksonville State to execute at a very high level to make the game competitive.

Keys to Victory...

This shouldn’t be much of a challenge for the Tigers, but it will be a major test for the focus level of the team’s youthful players. Auburn needs to take a business-like approach to this game as it is a contest the Auburn players may not be mentally hyped to play.

The Gamecocks rushed for 298 yards during the season opener and will hope to expose an Auburn defense that allowed 238 yards rushing to Louisville. Auburn has surrendered more than 200 yards rushing in 16 of its last 35 games.

Auburn should be able to wear down Jacksonville State with its running attack, opening up big-play opportunities in the passing game.

A key this week for the Auburn coaches will be maintaining the health of their roster, especially with several key contributors nicked up during the season opener.

What to watch...

Look for Auburn to empty its bench to provide valuable playing time for the younger players. The Gamecocks will attempt to control the tempo by running the football. If successful they could limit the number of offensive possessions for the Tiger offense.

Perhaps new AU defensive coordinator Will Muschamp’s most embarrassing day as head football at Florida was his team’s loss to Georgia Southern in 2013. The Florida defense had no answer for the Eagles triple-option attack that netted more than 400 yards rushing. Jacksonville State will need to replicate this kind of performance vs. Muschamp’s Auburn defense to have a shot at an upset.

Freshman Kerryon Johnson may get a chance to run the football this week with Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas being nicked up from game one ankle injuries.

Final Word...

Settling down Jeremy Johnson and getting him into a confident rhythm would help not just the quarterback, but the entire Auburn offense. This can be achieved with more passes on first down, shallow crossing routes and screens. Utilizing the backs in the passing game would also make the offense more difficult to defend.

Regardless of his shaky start, Johnson is no doubt the starting quarterback. This team will only go as far as he is allowed to take the Tigers. The game plan should be geared towards extending drives and not scoring on one play. Once he adjusts to utilizing all of the talent around him, he should be good to go.

Because many young Auburn players are contributing this year, games like this one provide the opportunity to grow and improve. The main priorities this week should be improving the run defense and boosting Johnson's confidence level, things that really need to happen with SEC play starting a week later at LSU.

Developing and establishing depth is always important in games like this one, especially for the younger players attempting to work their way up the playing rotation. Auburn should win this game handily, but the focus should be on execution in terms of improving from week one to week two. Auburn 42, Jacksonville State 13

Around the Southeastern Conference:

Georgia over Vanderbilt
Ole Miss over Fresno State
Alabama over Middle Tennessee
Arkansas over Toledo
Oklahoma over Tennessee
Missouri over Arkansas State
Texas A&M over Ball State
Florida over East Carolina
South Carolina over Kentucky
LSU over Mississippi State

Season Record: 11-2

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