With Jacksonville State leading at the half, I wrote that “[i]t’s highly doubtful Auburn loses this game.” In the end, they damn-near proved me wrong.
Taken to the limit by a squad from the FCS, Auburn managed to overcome poor performances all across the board and rally late for a 27-20 overtime win over Jacksonville State at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Were it not for a couple of JSU gaffes, though, Appalachian State would’ve been moving over. And Michigan would’ve had a bit of company.
Trailing 13-10, the Gamecocks used a field goal then a touchdown to take a 20-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter. With AU driving for a potential game-tying score on the ensuing possession, a fumble gave the ball back to JSU, after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was stepped off, at their own seven-yard line. A minute later, the Gamecocks (first gaffe) shanked a punt, giving the Tigers the ball back at the JSU 32-yard line with two minutes or so remaining. Five plays later, a 10-yard touchdown pass knotted the score at 20-all.
Then, following the kickoff, JSU (second gaffe) inexplicably took a knee instead of at least attempting to get the ball down the field and into field goal range. In overtime, Auburn scored a touchdown on its first possession. A first down gave JSU the ball at AU’s eight-yard line on its first possession. On third down from the five (third gaffe), quarterback Eli Jenkins was sacked for a 16-yard loss instead of throwing it away and living to fight on fourth down. A desperation fourth-down heaved subsequently sailed out of bounds, taking with it the 41-point underdog’s hopes of a historic upset.
That said, the escape does nothing to erase the myriad questions raised throughout the course of the 60 minutes-plus for the Tigers.
First and foremost, Jeremy Johnson. The beleaguered quarterback, who had been dubbed as Cam Newton 2.0 heading into the season, has instead turned into Thandie Newton 1.1 the first two games, tossing a total of five interceptions and generally looking lost and clueless. Toss in a defense, which brought in Will Muschamp in the offseason to revamp a squalid 2014 squad, that gave up 438 yards to an FCS team –one week after giving up 405 to Louisville, which lost to Houston this afternoon — and you have to wonder whether AU even deserves to be ranked, let alone deep inside the Top 10 where they currently reside.
In any event, any preseason projection of AU being a bona-fide playoff contender may very well have been premature speculation at its finest. And, yes, I’m as guilty as anyone on that front.