It took Auburn almost the entire 60 minutes to outlast visiting San José State, but the Tigers came out victorious with a 24-16 win over the Spartans.
“Good football teams can take a punch in the face and find a way to win,” said Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin.
Auburn’s game Saturday was truly a tale of two halves, as the Tigers actually went into halftime losing.
At half, Auburn found itself down 10-7. The offense looked miserable and the defense was doing all it could to keep the score manageable. A missed field goal by San José State could have made the margin wider, but it sailed wide left.
Both Auburn quarterbacks had thrown interceptions in the first quarter. T.J. Finley threw his third of the season, and Robby Ashford threw his first.
Stat-wise, Auburn’s dual-quarterback room looked abysmal and was not anywhere near the winning offense it was last week against Mercer.
At half, Finley was 6-11 for 69 yards, with his pick, while Ashford was 1-2 for one yard, as well as his interception.
Freshman running back Damari Alston led the rushing charge, with two carries for 38 yards. One of his rushes went for 35 yards.
Running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter combined for 17 yards in the first half.
Hunter scored in the second quarter, good for his fourth of the year. That score was all Auburn had to show against a team that hardly beat Portland State last week.
“We came out slow,” said Auburn offensive lineman Austin Troxell.
Harsin echoed the sentiment of his starting right tackle.
“We did not play well like we wanted to in the first half,” Harsin said. “We found ways to get the job done in the second half.”
While Auburn was in the locker room, Harsin noted his team was not desperate or in-fighting. He said that Finley told the team he would carry them in the second half, and that his team made the proper adjustments to turn the tide.
Finley certainly made the right adjustments, as the junior quarterback finished his night 13-20 for 167 yards and added a rushing score.
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“The biggest thing about this team is that the guys step up,” Finley said. “Guys listen to my voice. I meant everything I said at halftime when I said, ‘Guys, I got you all.’”
Finley played most of the second half, as Ashford looked to be the lesser quarterback of the pair.
Ashford’s night concluded with a final line of 1-3 passing. He did lead the team in rushing, with 64 yards on seven carries.
On defense, Auburn did not allow a second half touchdown, while still allowing over 300 yards to the Spartans total.
The Tigers had three sacks, but for the second straight week, did not record a turnover.
Auburn had a chance late to get that elusive turnover, when a called fumble that the Tigers recovered was reviewed and overturned to be an incomplete pass.
“Those 50-50 balls, we have to find a way to come down with those,” Harsin said.
While Auburn did not play well, the team did survive, on a day that many top teams faltered.
“If you watch the games today, it is always good to win,” Harsin said. “It is hard to win.”
The Tigers next look to Penn State, a team Auburn lost to last season in Happy Valley 28-20.
The Nittany Lions are 2-0 to start their year, with wins over Purdue and Ohio.
Cornerback Keionte Scott, who recovered the almost-fumble, said he and his team are excited about the opportunity to get revenge.
“It is going to be a good game,” Scott said. “We are going to celebrate tonight, then get ready to rock and roll.”
If Auburn defeats Penn State next week, it will be good for Harsin’s longest winning streak at Auburn, at three straight victories.