When Auburn Has The Ball
Jacksonville State has a talented and physical defense led by four SEC transfers on the front line. The best of the bunch is Devaunte Sigler. Signing with Auburn and playing with the Tigers for two seasons before transferring to Jacksonville State, Sigler was impressive last season for the Gamecocks and is a FCS preseason All-American selection playing alongside another former Auburn player Chris Landrum.
Now up to 260 pounds, Landrum is a solid option as a hybrid defensive lineman/linebacker for Jacksonville State and has 24 career starts for the Gamecocks.
Also up front on defense for the Gamecocks are 6-7, 275 LaMichael Fanning and 320 pound noseguard Allan Carson. Signing with Alabama and Tennessee respectively, the duo both have SEC ability and will present some challenges for Auburn’s offensive line.
At linebacker Brandon Bender (5-9, 180) is definitely undersized, but his 17 career starts make him one of the most experienced players on Jacksonville State’s defense. Alongside him are fellow senior Dawson Wells (6-1, 235) and sophomore Joel McCandless (6-1, 229). Both Wells and McCandless made their first career starts last week in the win over Chattanooga.
In the secondary senior cornerback Jermaine Hough has started 32 games for the Gamecocks and the 5-10, 185-pounder is a solid cover guy on the perimeter. A 6-0, 175, Jaylen Hill holds down the other corner spot with safeties Folo Johnson (5-11, 202) and DeBarriaus Miller (5-11, 190) provide a physical presence on the back end.
When Jacksonville State Has The Ball
Auburn’s defense will again be challenged with an athletic quarterback, but this weekend it’s one with plenty of experience. All all-conference selection a year ago and a three-year starter for the Gamecocks, 6-2, 205 Eli Jenkins is a serious threat for any defense because of his ability to run and pass. A season ago he threw for 1,870 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding 696 yards and six scores on the ground. For his career Jenkins has thrown for 2,757 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding 1,954 yards and 14 scores on the ground.
At running back former Anniston standout Troymaine Pope (5-9, 205) is back after splitting time with Damarcus James the last three years. Even with his carries limited Pope has still managed 1,761 career yards on 328 carries (5.4 ypc) with 15 touchdowns. A week ago he ran for 173 yards on just 15 carries, showing his big-play ability in JSU’s offense. Joining him are fellow senior Miles Jones (5-10, 210) and Kentucky transfer Josh Clemons (5-10, 220).
A teammate of Auburn’s Jonathan Jones in high school wide receiver Josh Barge is a talented player who could pose a threat to the Tigers. The 6-1, 178 junior caught eight passes a week ago and has 122 receptions for 1,856 yards and six touchdowns in 28 career games. On the other side 6-3, 211 Ruben Gonzalez caught five passes a week ago and is a physical presence.
Up front the Gamecocks have plenty of size with tackles Justin Lea (6-4, 295) and Dylan Cline (6-3, 290) on the outside surrounding guards Adam Wright (6-4, 310) and Kyron Samuels (6-2, 320). In the middle center Casey Dunn (6-3, 285) has just four career starts for Jacksonville State out of Hewitt-Trussville High.
Keys To Victory For The Tigers
The most important thing for Coach Gus Malzahn’s team is to come out early and take control of the game. Jacksonville State has plenty of firepower to make it interesting early, but if Auburn comes out ready to play it from the opening kickoff it would be just what the doctor ordered heading into the SEC opener at LSU next week. A player to watch is junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Facing a Gamecocks’ defense that is strong against the run, allowing only nine rushes of longer than 20 yards last season in 446 attempts, it could be tough sledding at times for the Tigers.
Auburn isn’t a FCS team playing in the Ohio Valley Conference, however, and should be able to run the ball, but this game will be about how much Johnson settles in throwing the football. If he shows the pocket presence and ability to stretch the field that we’ve seen out of him the last two seasons it would be a big confidence booster for the Tigers.