Last look: Auburn/Florida Atlantic

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 26, 2013 

Who: Florida Atlantic (2-5) at No. 11 Auburn (6-1)

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

TV: FSN

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)

All-time series: Auburn leads 1-0

Quick game notes: Auburn has shown a knack for knowing how to close games out this season. The Tigers are 3-0 in games decided by seven points or less and 4-0 in contests decided by eight points or fewer this year. In addition, Auburn has three come-from-behind wins this year, overcoming Washington State, Mississippi State and Texas A&M, respectively. ... The Owls captured bowl victories in both 2007 and 2008. But that's the last time Florida Atlantic has tasted postseason success, missing out on bowls the past four years. Since that 2008 triumph against Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl, the Owls have gone 15-40. ... Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall rushed for 100-plus yards for the second consecutive start last week. The junior quarterback ended with exactly 100 yards on 20 carries versus Texas A&M, including two touchdowns. In his previous outing against Ole Miss, Marshall tallied 140 yards (and two more touchdowns) on 14 carries. Those pair of performances made him only the third signal-caller in Auburn history to have multiple 100-yard games on the ground. He trails only Cam Newton (six) and Phil Gargis (four) in that category. ...Florida Atlantic center Mustafa Johnson is one of the oldest players in the FBS. According to the Owls' athletic department, there are only six players in FBS older than Johnson, who was born on June 15, 1986. (The oldest is 32-year-old Nate Boyer, a deep snapper for Texas.) Johnson, a senior, has made 18 consecutive starts at center for Florida Atlantic dating back to its 2012 season opener. ... The Tigers' 45-41 win last week extended the team's winning streak when it scores 30 or more points to 82 straight games. ... Auburn trails in turnover margin this season 12-11, but that hasn't slowed it down. The Tigers are outscoring opponents 45-10 in points off turnovers this season. ... A pair of Owl linebackers are inching closer to career records. With three tackles for loss, Randell Johnson will become FAU's all-time leader with 31, passing Johnnie Sloan's 30.5, which he compiled from 2001-04. Meanwhile, Cory Henry needs just 3.5 more sacks to move into first place with 16, passing Ramon Richards, who had 15.5 quarterback takedowns from 2001-04. ... With 1,856 career rushing yards, Tre Mason is 19th on Auburn's career list. Next up are Phil Gargis (1,884 yards from 1973-76), Fob James (1,913 yards from 1952-55) and Secdrick McIntyre (1,992 yards from 1973-76).

KEY MATCHUPS

Auburn vs. Itself

Yes, much like Auburn's game against Western Carolina two weeks ago, the outcome of this contest isn't in doubt. What is up for debate, however, is the Tigers' mind-set. Every player this week — with the exception of defensive end Dee Ford — has said their only focus is on Florida Atlantic. No talk of the increased expectations of being No. 11 or the opportunity of winning a conference crown (and possibly more) have seeped into the locker room yet. The easiest way to know whether that is truth or bluster is how the Tigers come out of the gates Saturday. If it looks the team that held a 42-3 lead against Western Carolina at halftime, we'll be able to take them at their word. If the Tigers start slow and allow the Owls to hang around until late in the third period, we'll know all the praise they've received in the past week got them feeling a little too good about themselves.

EDGE: Auburn. The first half of the Western Carolina game shows Auburn seems to have this "not taking opponents lightly" disposition down pat. It would be a shock to see them come out flat Saturday.

Auburn vs. Injuries

Auburn has been able to avoid any more major injuries in the last few weeks, but there are still key players battling nagging issues, notably Tre Mason, who hasn't returned kickoffs the past two games due to a heel injury. Nick Marshall appears to be fully healed from his knee injury suffered against Ole Miss, but one wrong hit could possibly cause that to flare up again. Defensively, a pair of freshmen defensive backs — Kamryn Melton (leg) and Mackenro Alexander (neck) — have been limited in practices recently. Both will be game-time decisions, and given that the Tigers should win handily, it's a distinct possibility the first-year duo is held out to continue the recover process

SLIGHT EDGE: Auburn. Aside from season-ending loss of defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker, the Tigers haven't lost any other players for the year up to this point. (Though Justin Garrett's name will likely be added to that list soon.)

Auburn vs. Itself, Part II

If things go according to script, Auburn will have plenty of time to get its backups playing time. The question is, how soon do they begin pulling starters? Do they let Jeremy Johnson come in and take all reps with the second-team offense, or do they stick with the "designed packages" the coaching staff says they have for him and give Jonathan Wallace his first extended action of the year?

BIG EDGE: Auburn. With the Tigers more or less being able to name their score, it gives them the freedom to do whatever they want.

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