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Report Card: Special teams lone silver lining in poor performance against Jacksonville St.

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Melvin Ray (82) catches the game-tying touchdown in regulation. Jacksonville State vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics
Melvin Ray (82) catches the game-tying touchdown in regulation. Jacksonville State vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics

Report Card

Offense D: It’s hard to find positives about the performance outside of running back Peyton Barber. He rushed for 125-yards on 23 carries with the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

Fellow running back Roc Thomas had a 51-yard catch for a touchdown, but gets dinged for almost fumbling the game away inside the 20-yard line. Thomas hasn’t shown much of anything in the run game, he had eight carries for 22 yards, and will find himself on the bench if he can’t hold onto the football.

Quarterback Jeremy Johnson’s struggles continued as he threw two more interceptions, and couldn’t get anything going in the vertical passing game. Outside of Thomas’ long reception, the Tigers didn’t have a single reception longer than 13 yards.

Wide receiver Ricardo Louis had a decent day with 10 catches for 76 yards, and Melvin Ray had a nice touchdown grab, but the overall performance of the Tigers’ receivers wasn’t anything special.

Defense C: Jacksonville St. came into Saturday’s game with a strong resume the past two seasons. The Gamecocks put up more than 6,000 yards on offense each of the past two years, and they brought back a number of key starters including quarterback Eli Jenkins.

A depleted Auburn defense -- with two starters out to injury, and another ejected due to a questionable targeting call -- was a bad recipe.

Jenkins had similar success to Louisville’s Lamar Jackson going for more than 300 total yards. The Tigers’ performance against mobile quarterbacks is troubling, but the defense showed some encouraging signs specifically in the red zone.

Jacksonville St. had to settle for field goal attempts four times when it got inside the 20-yard line, missing two of them.

Auburn forcing a three-and-out at the end of regulation, and Cassonova McKinzy helping keep the Gamecocks off the scoreboard in overtime showed the defense is capable of making plays with their backs up against the wall. McKinzy had a career day playing injured with 13 tackles and two sacks.

Special Teams A: On the list of things that Auburn needs to fix going into the start of its SEC schedule, special teams isn’t one of them. Special teams has been about as close to perfect through two weeks as can be.

The lone mistake was an out of bounds kickoff by Daniel Carlson, but he had three touchbacks, and was 2 for 2 on field goals (27- and 49-yards).

Punter Kevin Phillips had a strong showing landing all three of his punts inside the 20-yard line. On the Tigers’ lone kick return, Rudy Ford gave his team a short field with a 46-yard return.

Coaching C-minus: A mixed bag here, but ultimately Auburn’s coaches pushed the right buttons to get the win. The team had to come from behind with less than two minutes, and played well in overtime. It’s easy to argue that the game shouldn’t have been nearly that close, but with a significant number of first-year players in key roles this season doesn’t look like it’s going to be smooth sailing all the way through.

Overall D: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said he will see what kind of team he has next week, and he’s right about that. Saturday could be a fluke, or could be a sign of troubled times ahead. The Tigers have taken some lumps in their first two games, and come out 2-0. There is no denying the question marks outlined above, but a strong performance next week will put those doubts in the rearview mirror.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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