The No. 6 Auburn Tigers had fate on their side today as they narrowly avoided defeat against FCS opponent Jacksonville State, ultimately pulling away 27-20 in overtime.
It was an incredibly ugly game on the Tigers’ end, as the offense could just not get the ball rolling consistently. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson threw two interceptions, one of which resulted in a Jacksonville State touchdown drive, and Auburn entered halftime trailing 10-6.
But fortune appeared to smile on Auburn in the third quarter, when Johnson went long and found Roc Thomas for a 51-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 13-10.
But Jacksonville State answered back with a field goal, and a late-fourth quarter interception by Johnson led to the boys from the Ohio Valley Conference marching down the field. When Troymaine Pope ran five yards for the go-ahead touchdown, Auburn’s inconsistent play made the game seem all but over.
https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.jsFans groaned, especially after Auburn drove 71 yards down the field after the touchdown only to turn the ball over on a fumble by Thomas. However, after making the Gamecocks go three and out and a terrible punt, the Tigers got another chance to prove that their claws were still sharp.
On a five-play, 31 yard drive, Johnson dug deep and started playing like the quarterback everyone hoped he could be following the departure of Nick Marshall, finding Melvin Ray in the back corner of the end zone to tie the game up with less than a minute remaining. Rather than try and score after the ensuing kickoff, Jacksonville State took a knee, forcing overtime.
It was in overtime that fortune smiled on Auburn again, as the Tigers gained first possession and scored on a four-yard run by running back Peyton Barber, who finished the game with 125 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
Jacksonville State then took over to try and score the equalizer and got near the goal-line thanks to a pass interference call, but a mistake on third down led to quarterback Eli Jenkins being rushed and sacked for a loss of 16 yards, putting the Gamecocks at the 21 on fourth down.
Jenkins then appeared to find receiver Josh Barge in the end zone, but Barge’s foot was out of bounds despite catching the pass, and the crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium roared while also breathing a sigh of relief.
Though the victory was certainly nice, this victory should serve as a wakeup call for Auburn, who entered today’s game at No. 6. The team is now 2-0 on the season, but having been taken to the brink by an FCS squad in Jacksonville State won’t win them any favors on the selection committee. Johnson came through in the clutch and made 21 of 32 attempts for 236 yards and two touchdowns, but he must get his interceptions under control.
There were also mental mistakes on defense, as Michigan transfer Blake Countess was ejected from the game following a targeting penalty, which should be completely avoidable under any circumstances. Moreover, Auburn took three penalties for 40 yards.
With the Tigers set to take a trip to Baton Rouge to play LSU a week from today, here’s hoping that Gus Malzahn sits his men down so that they can get it together before playing a game that counts for a bit more.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports