Game number two has arrived on the Plains, and we get another night game, with another threat of dreary weather. It’s yet another pay-to-win game after the opener against Mercer, but this time it’s San Jose State coming in, and if you can believe it, the task might get easier for Auburn.
Mercer is a pretty solid FCS team, while San Jose State is... a team that barely beat Portland State. Look, I know Portland State can beat Mike Leach, and that’s something that Bryan Harsin hasn’t figured out yet, but this ain’t your daddy’s PSU Vikings.
SJSU amassed only 288 yards of total offense in the 21-17 win, and if you look at the box score, quarterback Chevan Cordero had 14 carries for 0 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The first play on the above highlight video is a 32-yard touchdown run... what happened?
Seven sacks by Portland State.
29 carries for 49 yards for SJSU.
SJSU escaped by a whisker, with the winning touchdown coming with roughly 70 seconds to play, and they needed three Portland State turnovers to help them along the way. Meanwhile, the Vikings nearly hit 400 total yards of offense, ran at a pretty healthy clip (35 carries, 135 yards) when considering FCS vs FBS, and perhaps lost only due to mistakes via turnovers and penalties. They pressured SJSU in the run and pass game all night, and so now the Spartans get to come in and take on Derick Hall’s group of buddies.
I’m not alone in saying that the Mercer game was a bit of a tease. We got one half of football before it turned into a glorified scrimmage. I half expected Harsin to be standing 15 yards behind the quarterbacks like it was a spring game, getting interviewed during plays and stuff. Once the lightning hit, everyone was ready to call it, and Tank Bigsby sent us home with that last touchdown run.
Maybe we’ll get a full 60 minutes of football this time, and we’ll get some more answers on what we need to learn before Penn State comes to town. Quarterback heirarchy. Offensive line quality. Go-to receiver. Secondary dependability. It’s all still out there, but we don’t have much time to figure it out before the real fun starts.
WHEN SAN JOSE STATE HAS THE BALL: The Spartans’ offense runs through quarterback Chevan Cordero (which is a bad-ass name). He’s a dual threat guy, although you wouldn’t know it from the stats last week (14 carries, 0 yards, 2 TDs). He was sacked seven times, which if you take those away, he had 7 carries for 57 yards and the scores.
Cordero’s favorite target is Elijah Cooks, a 6’4, 215-lb grad student that could cause some actual trouble in the secondary with his height. He’ll just need Cordero to stay upright long enough to toss a jump ball. Cordero will definitely run with it plenty of times, and he’s a dangerous scrambler, although it’s difficult to see exactly how fast those Portland State defenders are in comparison when you watch the video above.
They only got to run 59 plays against Portland State last weekend, and their time of possession was an abysmal 22:12. If Auburn has 38 minutes of possession tonight, they’re likely to score 65 points. There’s not a ton to look at from what they did last week, and the task is going to be incredibly tough with the defensive front they’ll face. This is a group that Auburn can absolutely shut out without a top-notch effort.
WHEN AUBURN HAS THE BALL: Well, everyone wants to see more in the quarterback race! Obviously that’s our first priority in trying to decide between T.J. Finley and Robby Ashford. Do the Tigers take a two-quarterback approach into the meat of the schedule, or do they try and settle on one guy?
The “more consistent” choice threw two pretty bad interceptions last week, while the guy who got some great reviews during camp, but also got bleak criticism from his wild turnovers wowed with outright speed and playmaking ability last Saturday. Still, Finley will start and we’ll hopefully have a full game to figure things out. I really don’t want to be trotting out the old offense from the 2016 Clemson game when Penn State comes to town next weekend.
Maybe more importantly is the offensive line play. It appeared as though they struggled to get a solid push up the middle last week, and that’s definitely a concern. Not that it’ll matter much with San Jose, but for future games it would make us feel better with a bulldozer performance tonight.
And finally, we’d love to see what kind of group emerges from the logjam at wide receiver. There are plenty of dudes, and Ja’Varrius Johnson separated himself last week as a favorite target for both quarterbacks. We need to see more gamebreaking ability from Shed Jackson, and everyone wants to see what Camden Brown can do. Find us someone to depend on.
SERIES HISTORY: Auburn leads the all-time series 2-0, facing off against SJSU in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The Tigers took a 59-13 win in the second game of the 2014 season before it got a little closer the next year.
LAST MEETING: The most recent clash between these two was the 35-21 Auburn win in 2015. During that game, Sean White went 6-10 for 108 yards while Peyton Barber scored 5 touchdowns, including the clincher with a little less than 5 minutes to play.
LAST WEEK: Auburn beat Mercer 42-16 while San Jose State beat Portland State 21-17
PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO SURPRISE: I don’t think anyone on this defense could surprise us with how bad San Jose is likely going to be up front and at protecting the quarterback, so we’ll go with someone on offense. I could easily see both Tank and Jarquez grabbing 100 yards, but with an actual full game, it’ll be someone in the receiving corps. I’m going with Shed Jackson snagging a pair of touchdowns.
TUCKER GREGG AWARD CANDIDATE: The only real weapon that I can see SJSU successfully using would be their giant receiver Elijah Cooks. At 6’4, he would have a height advantage over our defensive backs, and there could be a jump ball situation that he pulls down over Nehemiah Pritchett that elicits something a little naughty from a fan or two.
RANDOM PREDICTION WITH NO BASIS IN REALITY: Defensive touchdown from Colby Wooden after he gets to pick up a fumble (from an Eku Leota sack) and ambles into the end zone.
KEYS FOR AUBURN:
- Dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides. Defense will do its job and get to the quarterback plenty (if Portland State’s ability to do so is any indication). Seven sacks is the line to gain after last week, Cam Riley mad end up getting another 15 tackles with how much he’ll probably be asked to chase down Chevan Cordero. Offensively, we want to see the line push the Spartans two yards back on every run play, and we don’t want to see any quarterback jerseys with grass stains. SJSU couldn’t get any sacks last week, and I don’t expect them to get any today.
- Figure out the quarterback rotation. Whether it’s a two quarterback system or we settle on one guy, let’s not still be figuring things out next week. Whatever hilarity we’re going to go with, just finalize it and make that your plan for Penn State and the start of SEC play. I don’t expect that we’ll only see one guy exclusively, as there will certainly be packages for both of the top two dudes. That’s especially true if Finley is the starter and Ashford has to come in for the spark plays.
- No injuries and no rain delays. Let’s get out healthy, and let’s get done before midnight. Please and thank you!