Auburn's performance Saturday against San José State was pretty underwhelming for a 59–13 victory. We needed to look sharp. We wanted to see the kind of execution that could produce a win in Manhattan. But neither was the case. Instead, we looked like it was a good thing we were playing San José.
Can we really look at a game against such an over-matched opponent and ask whether the performance suggests Auburn will return to the national championship game? Let's give it a shot.
Why We're Not Going Back
Mistakes. Too many. The most meaningful accomplishment against a team like San José is to play mistake-free football. Saturday's performance was far from it. Marshall gave away the game's first scoring opportunity by not securing the ball at the end of a long run. Also, Marshall's passing was inconsistent. After throwing a touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis on the Tigers' second possession, Marshall completed only four of his next 12 attempts.
The ugliest mistake put the Spartans' only touchdown on the board. San José's Tyler Ervin ran between Kris Frost and Josh Holsey, caught a pass and then outran Derrick Moncrief en route to a 75-yard touchdown.
These mistakes aren't usually the difference between winning and losing against a team like San José, but they could be against all but one of the teams remaining on Auburn's schedule.
Why We Are Going Back
It's difficult to pick anything from this game as a reason why Auburn will return to the national championship game. Let's say this: Auburn fans understand that "you have to be sound in the kicking game." Right now, the ball's making the right sound when Daniel Carlson kicks it. Against San José, Carlson punted twice, for 39 and 41 yards. He attempted one field goal—good from 27 yards; and he registered touchbacks on four of six kickoffs. If you remember more than two non-touchback kickoffs, that's because walk-on Alex Kviklys kicked off after the final three scores, and all of his kicks were returned.
Who We'll See When We Get There
Oregon trailed Michigan State at the half Saturday, but dominated the final two quarters to win 46–27. The Ducks now have two ranked opponents remaining on their schedule—no. 12 UCLA and no. 15 Stanford. As much as some Auburn fans want a championship game rematch with free shoes, you know the Fightin' Highlighters (h/t AntiWarBlogle) would like another title shot at the Tigers.
The Bottom Line
Are we going back to the national championship game? Based strictly on this Saturday's performance, the answer has to be No. There were too many mistakes. The significance of the positives is mitigated by the strength of the opponent. That won't be a problem with our next game.
Josh Dowdy is a College & Mag contributor and the author of Orange Is Our Color: The Tuberville Years through Navy-tinted Glasses.