Game Preview: San Jose State at Auburn

After a big win at home versus Fresno State, the Spartans head to SEC territory to take on Auburn.

The San Jose State Spartans (2-2, 1-1 MWC) head back on the road this week for a non-conference matchup against the Auburn Tigers (2-2, 0-2 SEC). This is the second meeting between the two schools On September 6, 2014, then-No. 6 Auburn beat San Jose State 59-13.

San Jose State snapped a two-game losing streak last week with a 49-23 win over rival Fresno State. Auburn has lost two in a row, both against other SEC opponents, LSU and Mississippi State.

This week’s game: The basics

Site: Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn, Ala.; capacity 87,571)

Time: 3:00 p.m. (Central)

TV: SEC Network

Streaming video: and the WatchESPN app (subscription required)

Radio: 1590 KLIV (San Jose) and Spartan Radio Network affiliates: 860 KTRB (San Francisco); 1460/101.1 KION (Salinas/Monterey/Santa Cruz); 1280 KWSX (Stockton); 1360 KFIV (Modesto).

Streaming audio: KLIV: and the TuneIn app. KION: and the iHeartRadio app. To listen to Auburn’s radio broadcast, listen to the Auburn IMG Sports Network on or the TuneIn app.

Injuries: QB Kenny Potter (ankle)

Auburn: An overview

After going 12-2 and making the BCS National Championship Game in 2013, Auburn has not been able to come close to the success of that season. The Tigers went 8-5 in 2014 and opened the 2015 season with two wins with margins of just 7 points each. One of those wins was a 27-20 overtime nail-biter over FCS opponent Jacksonville State. Until quarterback Jeremy Johnson led a late fourth quarter touchdown drive that would force OT, that game looked like 2015’s “Appalachian State beats Michigan” game, as Auburn was ranked #6 at the time.

If Auburn thought an FCS opponent was challenging, then how much harder can SEC play be? The following week, now #18 Auburn travelled to Baton Rouge for a rivalry game against No. 13 LSU. In a 45-21 loss for Auburn, Jeremy Johnson passed for only 100 yards, threw two interceptions, and was sacked five times. Coach Gus Malzahn benched the junior and started redshirt freshman Sean White at quarterback the following week against Mississippi State. Auburn lost again, 17-9, and failed to score a touchdown. White passed for 188 yards and one interception; he also was sacked four times. For this Saturday’s game, White remains atop Auburn’s depth chart at QB.

On the Spartan Sports Report television show on Wednesday, San Jose State coach Ron Caragher described the Auburn offense: “They have a very effective power run game. Even though it’s a spread offense, they do pull the tackles and just angle block and do a nice job with that. And they do like to mix play-action pass, but they don’t want to live in that world of throwing the football [and] long-yardage situations.”

The Spartans will face a tough, mature Auburn offensive line, with junior left tackle Shon Coleman (6’6”, 313), sophomore right guard Braden Smith (6’6”, 286), and junior right tackle Avery Young (6’6”, 305) returning as starters. Junior left guard Alex Kozan (6’4”, 300) returns to action after missing 2014 with a back injury; he earned all-conference and all-American honors as a freshman in 2013. The line has another all-freshman honoree in Smith.

Auburn’s two running backs are in their first seasons as starters. Sophomore tailback Peyton Barber (5’11”, 225) has rushed for 411 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt freshman halfback Kamryn Pettway (6’0”, 242) has played solely as an offensive blocker this season. The team also has an experienced group of wideouts: seniors D’haquille Williams, Melvin Ray, and Ricardo Louis and junior Marcus Davis.

Auburn’s defense, whose coordinator is former Florida head coach Will Muschamp, has given up an average of 413.5 yards per game. Caragher attributed that to “growing pains” with many first- and second-year players on the defensive unit. Six of the starting defensive 11 are either freshmen or sophomores, mostly on the defensive line. Among the more experienced defensive starters in the secondary are senior cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Blake Countess. Jones earned second-team All-SEC honors in 2014, and Countess earned All-Big Ten honors at Michigan in 2012 and 2013 before transferring to Auburn last year.

San Jose State: Keys to the game

This will probably be the toughest game of the year for San Jose State, given the athleticism and depth in SEC rosters. San Jose State should look beyond Auburn’s 2-2 record and struggles against an FCS team. Even in a loss, competent play and avoidance of careless mistakes like the ones against Air Force and Oregon State will provide positive signs for the rest of the season.

Last week against Fresno State, San Jose State showed the recipe for a win. The recipe requires the absolute combination of these factors: Scoring early and often, getting defensive stops, and sustaining long drives on offense. While Tyler Ervin boosted the offense with his 300 yards of rushing last game, opponents now have all sorts of film on him to strategize around. Clearly, an effective offensive game plan against an SEC defensive line will not involve 40 hand-offs to Ervin.

Joe Gray threw zero interceptions but was sacked six times by Fresno State. He can expect that many or even more against Auburn, as well as a secondary that will break up passes and even get an interception. This is why Gray needs to choose passes wisely and even take a sack instead of a risky, random throw-away.

Caragher has said that he expects his team to embrace challenges. Already, the team has accomplished beating a rival. Now, the team will need to be competitive in an SEC team’s homecoming in front of over 80,000 hostile fans. Regardless of the result, SJSU will earn a payout of over $1.5 million for playing at Auburn. Also, learning from facing the best in college football will put SJSU in an advantage in conference play, as SJSU faces an easier opponent next week in UNLV.

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