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A spirit that is not afraid

Players to watch, keys to victory against San Jose State

After a week one victory over Mercer to open up the season, Auburn looks to improve to 2-0 as it takes on the San Jose State Spartans (1-0) out of the Mountain West Conference.

The Spartans will be looking to build off the energy that they gained last week. After falling behind in the fourth quarter, San Jose State battled back to win 21-17 over Portland State in their first game of the new campaign. 

SJSU scored just three times, doing so from 32, one, and two yards. The rushing game accounted for two out of the three touchdowns, but the passing game racked up 239 yards throughout the game, and was responsible for most of the Spartan’s total yardage.

On the other side, Auburn was dominant last week against Mercer, winning 42-16. The Tigers gained 497 total yards offensively, but did not win the turnover battle. The offensive yard count was nearly split down the middle between passing and rushing, even though the Tigers had many more rushing attempts than passing. 

Quarterback T.J. Finley split time with Robby Ashford during the game, as both of them put up 100 yards or more passing. On the running side, Tank Bigsby picked back up where he left off last season, putting up the most rushing yards by any single player last week. He and Jarquez Hunter accounted for all five rushing touchdowns in the win.

Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin expects the Spartans to test his team’s strength, both physically and mentally, as he also prepares to face a familiar foe.

“I know this team well. Coach Brennan does a great job of getting his guys prepared," Harsin said. “They do a really good job of game planning, that’s one thing. They are always physical, and their guys play hard, so no doubt that’s exactly what we’ll get.”

This is the third all-time meeting between Auburn and San Jose State. The Tigers won the previous two matchups, but the Spartans are hoping to change that with a huge week two upset in order to keep their energy level high.

Here are some players to watch this Saturday, along with the keys to victory for both squads:

Players to Watch

Auburn

Cam Riley (LB)

The new starter gathered up more total tackles last week than he had all of last season. He was named Auburn’s defensive player of the game, gathering up 15 tackles total, with nine of them being solo. His shiftiness forces opponents off of their planned assignments.

Tank Bigsby (RB)

The powerful junior running back started 2022 off strong, racking up two touchdowns on 147 yards rushing. He finds creative ways to break into the open field and forces defenders to play intelligently. His strength is a force to be reckoned with, while his leadership is one that helps build the momentum of the Auburn offense.

Ja’Varrius Johnson (WR)

The junior wide receiver is coming off an impressive first week of the season, recording four catches for 117 yards. He will move into a different role this week as the slot receiver, but is expected to be targeted a lot, as his speed gives him a huge leg up on opposing defenders.

San Jose State

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Chevan Cordeiro (QB)

The junior quarterback accounted for 239 passing yards and one touchdown in the Spartan comeback victory last Saturday. He can use his legs too, as he recorded a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. His dual threat ability forces defenses to change their scheme constantly.

Elijah Cooks (WR)

The sixth-year senior proved to be huge in the receiving game in week one, as he racked up six receptions for 123 yards. He, like many other Spartan receivers, gets down the field at various times to make plays, as his longest catch was 34 yards. Cooks looks to get down field even more this Saturday in order to cause some tension in the Auburn secondary.

Tre Jenkins (S)

An honorable mention for the 2021 Mountain West All-Conference team, the senior safety put up eight tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in week one. He is a guy to watch for in the secondary, as he has the ability to make tackles in the open field and catch players off guard.

Keys to Victory

Auburn

After a dominant week one performance on the ground, it is apparent that the Tigers need to continue to put a big focus on the run game. Last week, San Jose State gave up 125 rushing yards, which is on the lower end of becoming a concern for a defense. Auburn needs to take advantage of the powerful running weapons they have in order to put up good rushing numbers.

To go along with that, the Tigers also need to find several deep connections in the passing game, as the Spartans gave up multiple catches of over 40 yards last week. Taking advantage of any deep chances is beneficial to Auburn’s success.

Auburn needs to win the turnover battle this week after not forcing any turnovers last week. The Tigers also threw two interceptions, one of which led to a Mercer touchdown late in the first half of the game.

San Jose State

The Spartan defense needs to continue their pass pressure from last week and force Auburn into faulty passing decisions. San Jose State pulled in two interceptions last Saturday, but was unable to score on the ensuing possessions. They need to capitalize and take advantage of turnovers in order to kill any momentum that Auburn may build.

Deep threats are also a need for the Spartans in this game. While Auburn gave up less than 200 yards passing last week, the Tigers need to put more consistent pressure on the receivers. If the Spartans find holes in the defensive scheme, then they need to take advantage of the passing opportunities in order to create more high yardage situations for themselves.

The front four for San Jose State needs to find a way to limit the run game. It's difficult for any defender to take down the Auburn rushing core, so the Spartans must develop a plan to stop Bigsby and Hunter from running it down their throats the whole game. If they can pin the Tigers for short gains on the ground, then SJSU puts itself in a place where they can put pressure on the Auburn offense effectively.

The week two game will begin at 6:30 p.m. CST in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and will be broadcast on ESPNU on Sept. 10.


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