Splatter the Spartans!
San Jose State had trouble with the better teams, last season
(AP Photo, Ron Delhorn)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. In week two, Auburn takes on Mountain West team San Jose State in Auburn, on September 6th. This one will be televised somewhere, and it is likely to be pushed to late afternoon or evening, which will no doubt be a relief to those baking in the stands in the waning days of summer.
The Spartans open at home in 2014, with North Dakota, on a Thursday night game before Labor Day. This gives San Jose State a winnable scrimmage, and an extra practice or two before heading to Auburn. The Tigers, meanwhile, will have opened with a Saturday grudge match against Arkansas led by Majin Boo Bret Bielema in week one.
Two years ago, San Jose State enjoyed a miraculous turnaround, winning 11 games in 2012. Then, they lost their coach to Colorado, and retrenched with Ron Caragher, who tried to install a 3-4 defense in his first season. Despite having prolific quarterback David Fales and a high-powered offense, the Spartans were absolutely shredded in many games on defense. The Spartans plunged to a 6-6 finish, and didn’t make the bowls.
This season, the Spartans return to a more familiar 4-3 look on defense, and will try to rebuild. This year’s replacement defensive coordinator is Greg Robinson, who most recently was seen in Austin, Texas trying to put out a Longhorn defensive dumpster fire. Before that, he was Rich-Rod’s defensive coordinator in Michigan, where he had great difficulty figuring out complicated Big Ten offenses.
Offensively, the team must replace record-setting quarterback David Fales. Last season, offensive coordinator Jimmie Dougherty proved that he knew what he was doing, producing almost 500 yards per game (493) and 32 points per game. He’ll have to do it this season with a less experienced triggerman, and there was a quarterback battle still in play exiting spring drills.
Spartan special teams are headlined by returning junior kicker Austin Lopez, who was a reliable man with an absolute gun for a leg, when called on. A new punter, and anemic return games must be worked on. San Jose State was reasonably decent covering both kicks and punts last season, and should be again.
Unit matchups, after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. San Jose State offensive line: Auburn’s final starting lineup on Labor Day weekend is a bit up in the air, at this point. I’d expect senior Gabe Wright to start somewhere, either at tackle or end. Expect tackles Angelo Blackson, Jeffery Whitaker, Montravius Adams, and Ben Bradley to all play prominent roles. LaDarius Owens will likely anchor the run-stopping end spot, with Carl Lawson taking on the rush-end spot. Expect a heavy dose of Elijah Daniel off the bench, as well as any other young linemen from a deep unit that are healthy and have proved themselves in fall camp. Frankly, it will be scary for whatever Spartan quarterback plays in this game. San Jose State has just 23 career starts returning among all offensive linemen. Your penciled in starters at the end of spring drills are junior Wes Schweitzer and sophomore Evan Sarver at tackles, redshirt freshman Jeremiah Kolone and senior Keith Bendixen at guards, and veteran senior David Peterson at center. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. San Jose State backs: Auburn’s starting linebackers coming out of spring drills are juniors Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. Both are veteran, athletic SEC players, looking to make the next move up. San Jose State counters with a pair of sophomore at running/scat back, Jarrod Lawson and Thomas Tucker. Both of these guys are sub-200 pound guys, and only combined for 7 rushing touchdowns between them in 2013. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn corners vs. San Jose State receivers: Auburn is again fairly deep at corner, with veteran Jonathan Mincy locking down one spot, and either junior Joshua Holsey or junior Jonathan Jones at the other spot. Senior converted wide receiver Trovon Reed also looked pretty good in spring drills here. Auburn should be able to run with any SEC receiving corps, and play physical run defense on the edges. In addition to losses at quarterback and on the offensive line, the Spartans lose 2 of their top 3 receivers. Sophomore Tyler Winston is the Spartan ace in the hole. He returns having snagged 58 catches as a true freshman last season. He’ll be joined by senior Jabari Carr on the other side. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn safeties vs. San Jose State secondary receivers and quarterback: Senior Jermaine Whitehead anchors one spot here, and Auburn will feature either junior Joshua Holsey, or JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief at the other position. Moncrief was a beast in spring drills, this year, and Holsey is a veteran. Sophomore Tim Crawly returns as a slot receiver, but only averaged 9.0 yards per catch. The breakout possibility here is sophomore tight end Billy Freeman, who racked up 58 catches as a freshman last season. Quarterback is still up in the air. Senior Blake Jurich and junior Joe Gray are listed as co-starters. Grey had a phenomenal spring game, hitting 17 of 20 passes, but the competition is said to still be open. That’s not a good situation on a cross-country road trip. Advantage: Auburn
Punting: Auburn must start a new punter, here, going with redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchenson, who had a really solid A-Day game. Likewise, San Jose State lists freshman Zach Steinberg as the starting punter. On coverage, Auburn was stifling last season, allowing only 5 returns all season, for 35 yards. The Spartans allowed 9.9 yards per return. Auburn searches for a new return man this season, while the Spartan lead guy was Tim Crawley, who averaged just 5.4 yards on 5 returns.
Kickoffs: Both kickoff men will be new, here. Presumably redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson will take over for Cody Parkey, for Auburn. He showed a massive leg this past April, in spring drills. My guess is that Austin Lopez will kickoff for the Spartans, as he does have a strong leg. Both teams were suspect in kick coverage, with San Jose State giving up 22.2 yards per return, and Auburn giving up 25.8. The Spartans had trouble returning kicks last season, averaging just 18.5 yards per return. Auburn used a rotation last season. The best man returning is senior Corey Grant, who ripped off 5 returns for a 32.0 yard average, and a TD against Tennessee. Advantage: Auburn.
Place kicking: Auburn redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson is the man for Auburn. He hit a monster 51 yard field goal this year in the Auburn A-Day game, but also missed an extra point. Austin Lopez was gold for the Spartans last season, hitting 22 of 27 field goals, including an astounding 10 of 12 from 40 yards or more. Advantage: San Jose State.
Auburn offensive line vs. San Jose State defensive line: Auburn returns 4 starters on a road-grading, violent offensive line. Greg Robinson moves on to the NFL, but Auburn has talent to replace him. From left to right, it’s sophomore Shon Coleman, sophomore Alex Kozan, senior all-SEC Reese Dismukes, senior Chad Slade, and sophomore Avery Young, with junior Patrick Miller still in the hunt to perhaps unseat one of the tackles for a starting job. I suspect that this is where the game will get ugly. Most of the Spartan defensive line returners average around 250 pounds, giving up around 60-70 pounds to Auburn’s starters. There is experience on the Spartan line, though, with seniors Adrian Blake and Sean Bacon anchoring the end spots, and senior Travis Raciti and junior Nate Falo in the middle. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. San Jose State linebackers: Although Auburn lost Heisman finalist Tre Mason early to the NFL draft, Auburn should be fine here with seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Grant was this year’s A-Day star, looking even more explosive and unstoppable. Add in a corps of talented newcomers, and it’s no secret Auburn will be able to tote the rock again this season. H-back is a bit thinner. Senior blocking specialist Brandon Fulse moves from end/receiver to take over the starting nod, but depth behind him is questionable. The Spartan situation at linebacker took a big blow back in April, when starting middle linebacker Jared Leaf was severely burned in an apartment fire. Auburn thoughts and prayers go out to the Leaf family. Without him, the Spartans will be doing some fall shuffling, I’d think. Sophomore Christian Tago and senior Vince Buhagiar are talented at outside linebacker, but one of those two might have to move inside. Sophomore Moses Saucedo is penciled in at the moment at middle linebacker. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. San Jose State corners: Auburn juniors Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis developed into one of the more dangerous receiving duos in the SEC, last season. Add in monster transfer D’haquille Williams, and this unit became downright scary this spring, with lots of depth behind the big three. Junior Jimmy Pruitt has starting experience, and senior Dasheon Frierson will fill the other spot. They’ll have trouble against Auburn’s much bigger corps. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. San Jose State safeties: Auburn senior tight end C. J. Uzomah is a nightmare for safeties to cover. When Auburn needed to go to him late in games last season, C. J. was there every time to haul in the score. Auburn also has senior Quan Bray in the equation, who’s been the career quick screen guy. When guys start to clamp down on him, he can get open down the field. Senior Forrest Hightower returns at the free safety spot, but he’s listed at only 177 pounds. That’s going to smart, against Auburn’s big guys. Senior Akeem King moves up to take the strong side. He had just 13 tackles last season. Auburn returns senior quarterback Nick Marshall, and he’s easily the most dangerous guy returning at the position in the SEC this fall. With a spring spent working on a shaky passing game, the sky’s the limit this fall. Marshall was devastating running the zone-read option last fall. Advantage: Auburn.
Any way you slice it, this should be a game for Auburn to polish things for the starters early, then rest folks and build depth. After this one, Auburn will have a week off before a Thursday night trip to Manhattan, Kansas, for what should prove to be Auburn’s first real test of the season.
Prediction: This one is over by halftime. Auburn cruises to a 62-20 win over the Spartans.