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Improved San Jose State looks to spoil Auburn’s homecoming game

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

San Jose State running back Tyler Ervin is the second leading rusher in the country. (Timothy J. Gonzalez | AP Photo)
San Jose State running back Tyler Ervin is the second leading rusher in the country. (Timothy J. Gonzalez | AP Photo)

Auburn steamrolled San Jose State in a 59-13 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium last year.

The Tigers ground game had one of its best performances of the season with 358 yards to help put away San Jose State by halftime.

Can Auburn provide Saturday’s sold-out crowd similar offensive fireworks in a rematch? Or will San Jose State spoil the Tigers' homecoming celebration?

San Jose State (2-2; 1-1 Mountain West) finished 3-9 last season, but this is a much improved Spartans squad with some clear strengths starting with running back Tyler Ervin.

Ervin is coming off the best game of his career, a 300-yard, three touchdown performance against Fresno State.

“He doesn’t look like the kind of guy who could put up 300 yards,” San Jose State offensive coordinator Al Borges said.

Borges, a former offensive coordinator at Auburn (2004-07), said the 5-foot-10, 177-pound senior’s acceleration, and burst remind him of former San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman. Hillman now plays for the Denver Broncos in the NFL.

“Once he (Ervin) gets a step, he’s hard to catch,” Borges said.

On the season, Ervin is the nation’s second leading rusher behind Indiana’s Jordan Howard with 641 yards, and has nine touchdowns. Ervin’s athleticism also makes him a dangerous returner, and a threat out of the backfield.

He is the team’s second-leading receiver with 16 catches for 137 yards with a touchdown.

“He’s very good back, very quick, got some vertical speed,” Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said.  “Al will incorporate all the wheel routes and different stuff. We'll have to be good on the edges.”

Borges and Muschamp were on the same staff at Auburn in 2006, and 2007. The coaches expect Saturday’s game to be a bit of a chess match since they know each others tendencies.

“I know Al Borges very well,” Muschamp said. “They'll be a well-coached football team. Al always believes in the power play, and then one-back and two-back power; a lot of motion and shifts, window dressing.”

Borges vividly remembers how Muschamp’s defenses “kicked our butts” in practice, referring to the Tigers' offenses at the time. Despite Auburn’s recent defensive struggles, Borges expects Muschamp’s players to play like there “hair is on fire.”

One other key area of concern for Auburn coaches this week is facing San Jose State’s secondary.

Quarterback Sean White’s second career start comes against a Spartans' secondary ranked second in the country (out of 127 teams). They are only allowing 94.5 yards per game passing.

Defensive backs Cleveland Wallace III and Jimmy Pruitt are approaching a combined 50 starts. Pruitt leads the team with two interceptions this season, one he returned for a touchdown, and has seven on his career.

“I think they are better this year,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, said of San Jose State’s defense. “Their back-end is really long, and athletic. They have two really good corners that are six-footish, and can run, can cover, they’re confident. They got really aggressive safety play, and they utilize them that way.”

San Jose State might be in for a steady diet of Peyton Barber and the rest of Auburn’s backfield if its passing defense is as good as advertised. Lashlee said earlier this week he hopes all four of his running backs will be available for Saturday’s game.

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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