It wasn’t the complete victory Auburn fans might have been looking for, but the Tigers stopped a two-game skid Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium with a 35-21 win over San Jose State.
Peyton Barber had a career-high five rushing touchdowns, and became the first Tigers back to score three touchdowns in a half since his predecessor Cameron Artis-Payne’s did it against the same opponent last year.
“Peyton Barber had a good game,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. “He ran the ball hard – extremely hard in the second half when they knew that were were probably going to run the football.”
While San Jose State’s talented offense consistently moved the ball, Auburn’s playmakers finally came through. The Tigers forced three turnovers in the first half, one shy of how many they created through the first four games, and four overall.
Auburn (3-2; 0-2 SEC) traded touchdowns with the Spartans in the third quarter to maintain the 14-point lead it went into halftime with for much of the second half.
Daniel Carlson missed a late field goal that would have put the Tigers up three possessions. San Jose St. came back with an 80-yard drive capped off with a 2-yard touchdown run from Tyler Ervin to get within 28-21.
Blake Countess started the Tigers’ homecoming festivities off on the right foot with a 61-yard return on the opening kickoff. He received the ball at the goal line, and followed a huge crease along the numbers.
Before being forced out of bounds, Countess juked the kicker to get 10 extra yards down to San Jose State’s 39-yard line.
The offense couldn’t do anything with the field position, but Countess didn’t want his nice return to go to waste.
On San Jose State’s ensuing drive, Countess hit Ervin as the nation’s second leading rusher tried to make a short catch out of the backfield. The ball bounced right into linebacker Justin Garrett’s open arms. Garrett ran it back to the Spartans’ 23-yard line.
Barber scored five plays later on a 2-yard run to put the Tigers up 7-0 with 9:54 to go in the first quarter.
San Jose State (2-3; 1-1 Mountain West) answered with an impressive nine-play, 69-yard scoring drive.
Quarterback Joe Gray extended the drive on a fourth-and-four, hitting Tim Crawley for a 24-yard gain. Gray found Tyler Winston right inside the pylon for an 18-yard touchdown to make it 7-7.
Auburn’s offense found its stride at the end of the first quarter thanks to Roc Thomas and Barber
Roc Thomas turned a screen pass in the backfield into a 41-yard gain. He made a defender miss, and went straight through the middle of the defense to get the ball inside the 20-yard line.
Quarterback Sean White handed it off to Barber four straight times to take back the lead. Barber scored on a pitch from 2-yards out to give the Tigers a 14-7 lead at the 2:32 mark.
"We are a run to play action team, and to be a really good offense, you have to be balanced and balanced means that you take what they give you," Malzahn said. "If they are giving you the throw, you have to be able to execute and if they are giving you the run, you have to execute that. We are still working towards that, but there were some bright spots today that we can take for the rest of the year."
San Jose State’s two promising drives in the second quarter both ended in turnovers.
On a reception by Hansell Wilson that would have gone for a first down at the Spartans’ 47-yard line, defensive back Rudy Ford forced a fumble that was recovered by Dontavius Russell.
The Tigers had to settle for 55-yard field goal attempt after a third three-and-out by the offense.
On the first try, Daniel Carlson’s kick bounced off the left upright, but San Jose State called a timeout prior to the snap. Carlson’s second attempt was a low, wobbly kick that went wide right.
Montravius Adams forced another fumble when San Jose State tried to go for it on fourth-and-one at Auburn’s 22-yard line. Ervin attempted to jump for the first down marker over the offensive and defensive line, but was met by multiple defenders.
Adams stripped it out, and Jonathan Jones recovered it with 3:58 to go in the first half.
White completed passes for 17-yards to Duke Williams, and 31-yards to Ricardo Louis to lead Auburn down the field before halftime. Barber’s longest touchdown of the half, a 5-yard run, gave the Tigers a 21-7 advantage.
San Jose State had a seven-plus minute drive of the game at the start of the third quarter. The Spartans relied on Ervin to get within one possession; the running back touched the ball seven times on the 14-play drive.
The longest gain for the talented back was an 11-yard reception on a screen pass to convert a third-and-11 at midfield.
Auburn’s defense allowed more than 400 yards for the fourth time in five games this season, but Malzahn wasn’t ready to criticize the performance. Ervin finished the game 160 yards on 27 carries with a touchdown.
“I think you have to look at it collectively,” Malzahn said. “The big thing that stood out to me was the four turnovers. If you get four turnovers, I don’t care how many yards you give up, you still have a good chance of winning. We were very opportunistic.”