Observations: Auburn 24, San Jose State 16
Auburn was in danger of an ugly loss on an upset-filled Saturday of CFB. The second-half comeback wasn't emphatic by any means, but at least it was enough for a win.
RB Tank Bigsby (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
On the second full Saturday of the college football season, underdogs were out for blood.
Appalachian State beat Texas A&M. Marshall beat Notre Dame. (Both were in the top 10.) Nebraska lost a shootout to Georgia Southern. In Power 5-on-Power 5 violence, Washington State beat Wisconsin as a 17.5-point ‘dog, and Kansas defeated West Virginia in overtime as a two-touchdown ‘dog. Further down the FBS food chain, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Nevada and Utah State all lost to FCS opponents.
And Auburn almost joined that list of clearly favored teams that took an ugly early-season loss.
San Jose State, which reportedly was getting paid $1.85 million by Auburn for what should have been a comfortable result, led at halftime Saturday night. As 24-point favorites, the Tigers had gotten outplayed on both sides of the ball. The Spartans ran a dozen more plays and had possession for nearly twice as much time as their hosts in the first half.
A loss would have been the first for Auburn to a non-power conference opponent since a 10-9 defeat to Southern Miss in 1991. The Tigers have had plenty of escapes in paycheck games over the last two decades — including 2011 Utah State, 2015 Jacksonville State and 2021 Georgia State — and they were going to need a much stronger second half to pull out another one Saturday night.
In the halftime locker room, the attitude wasn’t overly negative. Bryan Harsin said it was more “matter-of-fact” than anything. Owen Pappoe told teammates “let’s not fall into that category” of brand-name programs that suffered bad losses Saturday. T.J. Finley helped rally the troops.
“I meant everything I said when I grabbed the defense and the offense together and was like, 'Guys, I've got y'all. No more mistakes. No more nothing like that. We're gonna win this game,’” Finley said.
Auburn didn’t need the same type of dramatic finish like the three previously mentioned escapes this time around. Finley and a reinvigorated ground game led Auburn on a touchdown drive to open the second half. Following a San Jose State punt, the two sides traded field goals. Then Auburn went on another touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter to go up two scores.
San Jose State drove for a late field goal and tried an onside kick to make things interesting, but Auburn was able to kill off the rest of the clock for an underwhelming 24-16 win.
Auburn’s performance was sloppy. It was ugly. It generated even more doubts about this 2022 team. A matchup like this should have never needed a late onside kick recovery.
Still, it was better than the alternative, especially for a team that faltered in the second half more than it sealed the deal a season ago.
(And for a team that survived an even scarier game against Georgia State last season and then beat LSU on the road a week later. College football is a sport of week-to-week inconsistency, and Auburn has been the poster child of that for years.)
“Just to finish and play well in the second half to win, we didn't do that enough at times on last year's team,” Harsin said. “… We didn't play well like we wanted to in the first half. And then we found ways to get the job done in the second half.”
Here are five Observations from Auburn’s 24-16 win over San Jose State, plus Nerd Stats, some No-Huddle Notes and the Quote of the Night.
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