Playing Jacksonville State is great for the Gamecocks' football program and entire athletic department, but for the Auburn Tigers it was a game that proved to be a no-win situation. First off no matter how good the FCS program you play there is little difference perception-wise in playing a championship contender or the worst team in the country because no credit goes for the win. Playing a team like JSU that actually has talented players, including SEC transfers, meant you were facing an opponent that could challenge you if you played bad, which is exactly what happened.
When you add in the fact that Auburn held out key players on both sides of the ball and it made for a huge learning experience for a team that was depending on a whole lot of inexperienced players on both sides of the ball. As a freshman it has to be difficult to prepare for an lower level opponent on this level because you don't think of them as a challenge. Several young Tigers found out on Saturday exactly why you have to prepare and be ready for every game.
The coaches don't get a pass either for Saturday because there is no question the game plan, especially on offense, was a watered down version of what the Tigers are capable of doing. It's not anything new as we have seen it time and time again over the years early in the season, but with Auburn's offense already not hitting on all cylinders it made for a discombobulated performance that contributed to one of the biggest scares in the long and storied history of the program
Running On Empty
There is no question that the play of quarterback Jeremy Johnson has been a huge reason why the Auburn offense has struggled in each of the first two games, but he’s not the only problem right now for the Tigers. In two games Auburn has a total of just 355 yards on the ground and has just three runs over 10 yards.
Gus Malzahn’s offense is dependent on staying ahead of the sticks and that means having success running the football early in games. That’s not the case so far with this Auburn team however and Saturday against Jacksonville State was the perfect example.
If you look at Auburn’s rushing totals the number might not seem terrible as the Tigers carried the ball 38 times for 165 yards against the Gamecocks, but 87 of those yards came in the fourth quarter and overtime. Throw in 15 carries for two or fewer yards and you have an offense that is facing way too many obvious passing situations, not ideal for a quarterback who is struggling to find his way at the moment.
Facing an LSU defense that does a great job of getting after the quarterback Auburn has no choice but to find a way to get the running game untracked against the Bengal Tigers. We have seen Malzahn’s offense work without a running quarterback in the past and I suspect some of the things that we saw work in 2009 may just find a way back into the offense sooner rather than later.
Cassanova On Call
There is little doubt in my mind that senior linebacker Cassanova McKinzy had his finest career game on Saturday when he finished with 13 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, and a forced fumble in Auburn’s comeback win. All over the field for a defense that couldn’t find a way to make a stop on third down, McKinzy was one of the few bright spots along with safety Rudy Ford. When you factor in the eight tackles by fellow linebacker Kris Frost it was a very productive day for the starters at the position.
Fountain Of Youth
One of the few positives from Saturday’s game was that Auburn’s young guys on defense again got a ton of experience in pressure situations. That started very early when Josh Holsey went down with an injury on the first drive, throwing true freshman Tim Irvin into the top spot at the nickel position. He joined first-time starter Nick Ruffin in the secondary for the Tigers out of the gate and played early and often as Jacksonville State kept Auburn in five defensive backs for much of the game.
The youth movement only got more intensive for the Tigers when Blake Countess was ejected for the game with what the officials said was a targeting offense. That put true freshman Carlton Davis in the game for the remainder of the contest. Combined with fellow true freshman Jeremiah Dinson the duo played nearly 70 snaps and despite giving up some plays the two had pretty solid coverage throughout the game.
This weekend the two newcomers who may be the most important will be Byron Cowart and Jeff Holland. With LSU wanting to pound the ball and be physical it will mean a need for more depth on the defensive line. Cowart, Holland, Maurice Swain and Devaroe Lawrence will be keys for Auburn in Baton Rouge on Saturday.
Good Recruiting Day
The only positive to come from Saturday’s game was that all of the recruits got the opportunity to witness the loyalty of Auburn’s fanbase. In a game that might have sent many packing early because of the problems on the field, the fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium stayed in their seats and were loud until the end.
With big-time defensive tackle Derrick Brown checking out his second Auburn game in as many weeks the Tigers couldn’t ask for more of an opportunity to show how much they need help on the defensive line. Also in attendance was talented wide receiver Kyle Davis out of Archer (Ga.) High. Having so many senior wide receivers playing key roles for the Tigers means opportunity early for a player of Davis’ skill set. Auburn is one of several schools very high on his list so getting him back on campus for a game was especially big.