Auburn, AL: It was a cloudy and gloomy day in Auburn, Alabama, but inside Jordan-Hare Stadium the atmosphere was anything but grey, well at least in the second half. The Tigers were set to take on the San José State Spartans, led by coach Brent Brennan.
The Spartans came into this matchup after having beaten beat Portland State 21-17 last Saturday. Auburn comes into the matchup after defeating the Mercer Bears 42-16 in Jordan-Hare Stadium, a game that was suspended due to heavy rainfall and was completed with very few fans still in attendance.
Coming into this matchup, the main question for the Tigers remained the quarterback position. After TJ Finley’s rocky start to the season on Saturday and Robby Ashford stepping up and making good plays in the second half, the coaching staff is now faced with the pressure of the fanbase on who will be the starter for Auburn going into next weekend’s game where the Tigers will be put on the national spotlight for the first time this season as they take on the Penn State Nittany Lions at 2:30 p.m. CST on CBS. Coach Harsin and the Tigers will be looking for revenge after falling in Happy Valley last season to Penn State 28-20.
The first quarter for the Tigers' offense was far from what people expected. The Tigers only ran 11 plays for 31 yards the entire quarter. Both Finley and Ashford accounted for an interception, making the decision on who the starting quarterback is for next week that much more interesting.
However, the Tigers' defense was able to make up for the lackluster offensive performance. Apart from the Spartans' missed field goal, the Tigers' defense was able to combat the mistakes made by the offense, keeping the score even as the quarter ended.
The second quarter saw the defense take a step back. The Tigers gave up a 31-yard field goal to the Spartans and allowed them to score a one-yard rushing touchdown with 58 seconds left to go in the half.
The Tigers continue to struggle when it comes to defending the pass, giving up multiple middle-of-the-field passes and two pass interference penalties that proved to be very costly on that last Spartans drive before the half, with the pass interference called on Auburn’s Jaylin Simpson giving the Spartans the ball at the Auburn three-yard line.
The Auburn offense had only two drives to work with during the second quarter and both showed much improvement from the offense in the first half. Auburn had 122 yards of offense in the second quarter, including a seven-yard touchdown rush from Jarquez Hunter.
Auburn had fifty-three seconds to score after the Spartans took the lead, but were unable to find the endzone, with a TJ Finley hail marry pass being batted around and dropped by Shedrick Jackson in the endzone to end the half.
Auburn struggled in the first half with penalties, receiving eight penalties for seventy-five yards. The lack of discipline, mainly from the defense, is the reason why the Tigers had to come back from halftime trailing 10-7 in their second non-conference home game. They needed to come out with some fire and prove the first half was just a fluke when they received the second half kickoff.
“Hats off to them, they came out and started off strong. We didn’t play as good, we weren’t playing our brand of football,” said Auburn captain Owen Pappoe, regarding the first-half performance of the Tigers.
Coming into the second half, Auburn had the perfect drive. The Tigers go on a nine-play, 69-yard drive which ended in a Tank Bigsby touchdown and gave the Tigers the lead back. Right after that drive, the Tigers' defense came up big time, forcing the Spartans to punt.
The Tigers did not stop there, scoring a 49-yard field goal off the leg of Anders Carlson. The defense would hold the Spartans scoreless in the third quarter, only allowing 22 rushing yards. However, they did give up 73 yards in the air, but the struggles of the Tigers' secondary still prevented the Spartans from finding the endzone.
San José State came right out of the gate in the fourth quarter, scoring off a 27-yard field goal to cut the Auburn lead to just four. Auburn responded imminently, going 74 yards in four plays, which led to a quarterback rush from TJ Finley to put the Tigers up 11.
“It felt amazing to get in front of this crowd and score a rushing touchdown,” said Auburn quarterback TJ Finley after he found the endzone early in the fourth quarter.
On the defensive side, the Tigers continued to struggle with containing the pass, giving up seven pass plays for 81 yards. Despite the large number of yards the Spartans accumulated in the air, the Tigers still kept the San José State offense out of the endzone, forcing them to kick another field goal.
When the clock hit zero inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, the score favored the Tigers, who took the 24-16 victory over the Spartans of San José State.
“I was proud of our team…just to finish and play well enough in the second half to win,” said Auburn head football Coach Bryan Harsin.
“Plenty to clean up,” said coach Harsin in response to the nine penalties for 85 yards.
“Never say a wins a win, but it is always good to win…and it is hard to win” said Bryan Harsin when asked about how the big upsets on Saturday in college football made him appreciate this win.
Next week, the Tigers will have their work cut out for them. They will take on an undefeated Penn State team in front of a national television audience. Auburn will have to improve significantly in the passing game to prevent Sean Clifford from controlling this game through the air. While they do not have Jahan Dotson anymore, this is still a Penn State team that can get it done in the air, and the Tigers are going to have to improve to come out of next weekend undefeated.
The Tigers will be put on the national spotlight for the first time this season as they take on the Penn State Nittany Lions at 2:30 central time on CBS.