Alabama State at Auburn

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 7:46 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
TV: SEC Network
SERIES: First meeting
RANKINGS: Auburn No. 7

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Hornets

–QB Darryl Pearson scored the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter to help send the game against Tuskegee to overtime. He was 15-of-24 passing for 164 yards with no interceptions in the Hornets’ 26-20 overtime win.

–WR Tyrek Allen made an immediate impact after arriving from San Francisco Community College. He caught a pass over the middle and outran defenders for a 68-yard touchdown against Tuskegee in the second quarter. Such plays may be Alabama’s best hope against Auburn’s defense.

–S Kurron Ramsey got his senior year off to a great start when he recorded a career single-game high in tackles with 14 stops. That was two more than his previous high established last year against Edward Waters. He had 38 tackles all of last season.

–S Joshua Hill also was in double digits in tackles in the opener. He was credited with 11 stops, also a career-high for the junior. He also forced and recovered a fumble in the win.

Tigers

–QB Malik Willis should see extensive time on the field if things go as expected and Auburn gets a big early lead. The backup to starter Jarrett Stidham, Willis played in seven games as a freshman last year, rushing for 221 yards on 16 carries (13.8 average) and completing six of his seven pass attempts for 45 yards.

–RB Jatarvious Whitlow, a redshirt freshman, rushed for 28 yards on eight carries and scored his first collegiate touchdown in the win over Washington, scoring on a 10-yard run with 6:15 left in the game to put the Tigers up 21-16. Like Willis, he could see extensive action if the Tigers take the load off starter Kam Martin.

–SS Daniel Thomas shared the team lead in tackles with eight stops in the win over Washington. Seven of his tackles were solo stops, a team high. He also broke up a pass. Thomas and the secondary will want to keep Alabama State from breaking off a big play that could give the visiting Hornets a spark.

–FS Smoke Monday snuffed out Washington’s last hope for a comeback by throwing Huskies QB Jake Browning for a 10-yard loss on an all-our rush on fourth down at Auburn’s 43-yard line. He was given credit for a sack when Browning was called for intentional grounding.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is looking for more production out of its running game and fewer penalties when his No. 1 Tigers (1-0) hosts Alabama State (1-0) in its home opener Saturday.

Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. ET at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn with television coverage on the SEC Network.

The Tigers moved up two spots in the poll after their 21-16 win over then No. 6 Washington, but also were guilty of mistakes that Malzahn would like to see corrected against the FCS opponent. They rushed for only 147 yards — 71 under their 2017 per-game average — and were penalized 12 times for 111 yards. Two other flags were declined.

“What really stood out to me is we’ve got to run the football better,” Malzahn said in recapping the win. “I give Washington credit — great run defense — but we need to improve in that area. We gave up a few deep passes, they made some outstanding plays with that.

“Really the main thing with me is the penalties. The penalties we had are completely unacceptable. We take great pride in not beating ourselves, and so we are going to focus on that and that will be corrected moving forward.”

Running back Kam Martin accounted for 80 of the rushing yards and redshirt freshman Jatarvious Whitlow added 28 on eight carries, 10 coming on a third-down dash up the middle for what proved to be the decisive touchdown. But no other back managed to get into double digits in rushing.

Part of that was due to facing a Washington team that was “good as advertised” in Malzahn’s words.

“That team is going to be tough to beat,” he said. “They’ve got a complete team. And that’s why I was proud of our group that we found a way to win.

“We knew it would be close at the end. We didn’t win any close games last year, but we did this year and we can take that moving forward the next time we’re in that situation.”

He also is taking a page out of the traditional coaching handbook in his approach to the upcoming game against the SWAC foe.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “The good teams that have a chance to win a championship don’t. This week is about us getting better.

“Last week is behind us and we have to figure out a way to get better. There’s all kinds of areas that we should improve on and need to improve on, and that’s the way we are approaching this game.”

Malzahn also may have memories of the 2015 meeting with another FCS foe, Jacksonville State, that nearly resulted in one of the most shocking upsets of that or any season. The Tigers needed overtime before escaping with the 26-20 victory.

That said, Alabama State doesn’t seem to be the measure of that Jacksonville State team. The Hornets beat Tuskegee 26-20 in overtime in their opener last week in a game that their coach, Donald Hill-Eley, said continued a pattern of grinding out wins that went back to last season when they won five of their last six games after starting the year 0-5.

“Just resilience,” Hill-Eley said. “You have to have success for them to continue to believe. The resilience that they showed toward the end of last year, going from 0-5 to 5-1.

“They found a way to win and now they have been doing that for seven games and more importantly this shows them that collectively we are playing well enough to win.”

The Hornets trailed 20-13 at the end of three quarters and shut out the Golden Tigers in the fourth quarter and extra period. Tuskegee had the first possession of overtime but came up empty when Alabama State defensive tackle Christian Clark blocked its field goal attempt.

Alabama State won it on Ezra Gray’s 30-yard run on the second play of its possession.

“A well-fought contest by our young men,” Hill-Eley said. “They kept their composure so many times as it was going up and down. Defense and offense picked up when they needed to. Any time you’re in your first game and play like both teams played, it is nothing but tradition.