Auburn hopes to get back on track against San Jose State
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) The Auburn Tigers can't afford to overlook any opponent.
Sure, it's the standard coach speak spiel from any heavily favored team but this time it rings especially true.
The struggling Tigers (2-2) face a San Jose State team Saturday that they presumably should be able to handle with a bigger, faster, deeper Southeastern Conference-style roster.
An overtime scare against FCS Jacksonville State, followed by back-to-back SEC losses, should curb any tendency to presume a victory over the Spartans (2-2). The Tigers are 20-point favorites and won last season's meeting 59-13, but that Auburn team was ranked fifth.
This group is looking to fix glaring problems offensively and defensively heading into an open date. And to avoid absorbing a loss that could give a disastrous turn to a disappointing season
''Our focus is on us getting better and us getting a victory, and that's what we're focused on,'' Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said.
With that in mind, he'll start quarterback Sean White for the second straight game. White faces a defense that is holding opposing quarterbacks to less than a 50 percent completion rate and is averaging six tackles for loss per game.
San Jose State has started quarterbacks Joe Gray and Kenny Potter two games each, with Gray listed as the starter for this one. Auburn's inconsistent defense will face prolific tailback Tyler Ervin, who already has 641 rushing yards and nine touchdowns while catching 16 passes.
The Spartans do have the benefit, as coach Ron Caragher said, of having ''been there, done that'' at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
''It's not as eye-opener of an experience because they have been there,'' Caragher said.
Here are some potential story lines for the game:
WHITE'S ENCORE: Auburn could open up the playbook more for White in his second college game - or at least focus more on speeding up the tempo as Malzahn favors. If the Tigers do manage a big lead, former starter Jeremy Johnson might get a chance to get back on the field and rebuild his confidence.
TOP RUNNER: Pummeled by LSU's Leonard Fournette two weeks ago, Auburn faces another running threat in Ervin. He ran for 300 yards on 42 carries last week against Fresno State. It's the highest total of the season for an FBS back. The 5-foot-10, 177-pound Ervin is much less physically imposing than Fournette but has impressed the Tigers. ''Coach is like, `He could be an SEC back,''' Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams said.
BORGES RETURNS: San Jose State offensive coordinator Al Borges held the same position at Auburn, including the Tigers' unbeaten season in 2004 with quarterback Jason Campbell emerging as a star and NFL first-round pick. He worked under Tommy Tuberville at Auburn from 2004-2007.
SEC ENVIRONMENT: Given recent events, it's not clear how full Jordan-Hare will be, though it's homecoming and Auburn has sold out every home game this season. Caragher, a former Kentucky assistant, has an idea of what to expect in an SEC stadium. ''There wasn't a game that I went to that wasn't frenzied, spirited and festive leading up to it,'' said Caragher, who worked for the Wildcats from 2003-2006. ''It's part of the culture, and I respect that. There's some very strong football enthusiasts down there.''
AUBURN PLAYMAKERS: The Tigers would love to get receiver Duke Williams going, and maybe tailback Jovon Robinson or Roc Thomas, if they're healthy. Freshman tailback Kerryon Johnson is also an emerging threat trying to build experience.