Peyton Barber (above) scores for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--A week after Auburn couldn’t put the football into the end zone vs. Mississippi State, Peyton Barber personally did it five times as the Tigers defeated San Jose State 35-21 on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Barber’s five rushing touchdowns are the most since Carnell Williams got six in 2003 vs. Mississippi State.
The victory wasn’t particularly impressive for the SEC team, but it did end a two-game losing streak for the Tigers, who improve to 3-2 for the season while the visiting Spartans fell to 2-3.
“It is a pretty good feeling,” said Barber after his productive day that featured 147 yards on 28 carries plus several strong blocks. “It is a blessing--that is pretty much all I can say.”
Barber gained just 32 yards on 11 carries at halftime. “I feel as the game goes along I continue to get stronger,” said the redshirt sophomore, who noted that the five touchdowns aren’t a personal record because he had six in a game as a senior at Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ga.
The running back said the Tigers needed to get back into the victory column, something that Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee agreed with after his unit was out-gained 406-342 by the Spartans. “We needed a win badly,” said Lashlee. “It was a good locker room.”
On the plus side for the offense the Tigers didn’t turn the ball over and played an entire game without an offensive penalty.
Combine that with four takeaways--two fumbles recovered and two interceptions--and the Tigers were able to overcome a strong performance by running back Tyler Ervin, who rushed for 160 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries. He caught a pass for 11 yards and returned two kickoffs for 59 yards.
“We do what we have to do to win, and that’s just the way it was today,” Malzahn said about his team that completed just six of 10 passes for 108 yards. “I was excited about the running game. We didn’t have to throw it that much. We had some short fields that had something to do with that, too, but we have a good idea about who we are moving forward.”
The Auburn offense scored an opening quarter touchdown for the first time since the Louisville game and it was set up by an interception just like the previous one.
Justin Garrett caught a pass that was knocked loose by Blake Countess. Garrett, a senior linebacker, credited Countess with making a good play. “I caught the ball and I was trying to score again,” said Garrett, who scored on a fumble return vs. Louisville.
Justin Garrett returns his interception vs. the Spartans.
The 11-yard return put the offense in business at the SJSU 23. From there it took five plays to put the ball into the end zone on a two-yard run by Barber at right tackle.
The visitors matched those points by driving 69 yards on nine plays. Tyler Winston caught a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone over cornerback Carlton Davis to make the score 7-7.
Auburn pulled ahead with 2:32 left in the opening period when Barber scored from two yards out to cap a drive that covered 60 yards on seven plays.
Neither team scored until 38 seconds were left in the half. Barber raced into the end zone, untouched at right tackle, to finish a drive that covered 74 yards on nine plays. That drive was set up by a defensive stand when Ervin was stuffed on fourth and inches at the 22. Hit by Montravius Adams, DaVonte Lambert and Kris Frost, the ball popped loose and Jonathan Jones recovered at the 25.
First Half Numbers: The Spartans led in total offense, keeping the ball for 37 plays and gaining 218 yards. Auburn had 30 first half plays to gain 170 yards. San Jose out-rushed the Tigers 110-67 in the half and passed for 108 yards, three more than the Tigers who completed 5-8 throws while the Spartans hit 12-18 with one interception. The Tigers were plus three in turnovers with two fumbles recovered and did not have a penalty in the half.
The Spartans put together an impressive drive to start the second half, moving 75 yards on 14 plays before Joe Gray scored on a quarterback sneak to cut the lead to 21-14.
However, the Tigers cashed in a long kickoff return to push the score to 28-14 after Rudy Ford picked up a short kickoff and ran 54 yards to the San Jose State 24.
From there the Tigers scored in eight plays with Barber jumping over the top from the one-yard line for his fourth touchdown of the game.
The home team had a chance to make the contest a three-score game in the fourth quarter. However, on fourth and inches Malzahn decided to go for a 25-yard field goal, but Daniel Carlson’s kick was wide left.
The Spartans took advantage of the miscue by driving 80 yards in eight plays to cut the lead to 28-21 with 5:38 left.
After that an onside kick was recovered by Duke Williams at the SJSU 45. Two plays later Barber rumbled through the defense from 36 yards out to put the Tigers on top 35-21 with 4:43 left.
An interception by freshman cornerback Carlton Davis with 2:45 left end the final threat for the visitors.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn returned three kickoffs and was impressive on each one. Rudy Ford returned two for 81 yards and Blake Countess had one for 61 yards.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Ford led the Tigers on defense with 11 solo tackles and assists. Kris Frost finished with five solo stops and seven assists.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Auburn threw just 10 passes in the game and only two after halftime. Malzahn said the Tigers did not need to pass to win the game when asked about that strategy.
Worth Noting, Part 4: Cassanova McKinzy played the “buck” end and saw some limited duty at middle linebacker, the position the senior said he prefers.
Auburn is off next Saturday and will return to action the following Thursday with a game in Lexington vs. the Kentucky Wildcats.