Auburn’s 38-9 victory over defending Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State was eye opening for how well the defense played a week after giving up 464 yards against Washington State, but a score on the West Coast also caught Auburn eyes.
JSU’s 48-13 laugher against Jacksonville University was eye-opening for how relentlessly and well the Gamecocks ran the ball a week after the offense came in fits and starts at Alabama State. It seems JSU coach Bill Clark opened eyes in practice last week.
Alabama: Making Manziel think
While much of the hand ringing after the Virginia Tech game surrounded the play of the offensive line, the biggest worry against Texas A&M should be the secondary.
It didn’t show on the scoreboard, but Virginia Tech had chances for a handful of big pass plays. They wound up as overthrows and drops.
An accurate quarterback with good receivers could have made the secondary a bigger worry. Manziel is many things off the field, but he’s accurate on it and showed it by fitting the ball in spots against Alabama last season.
The question becomes how consumed Alabama will be about keeping Manziel in the pocket, and how much personnel will it take?
Or can the Crimson Tide drop linebackers, squeeze passing lanes and make him think beyond his mental alarm clock about run-pass decisions?
Auburn: A good start
So, Auburn is 2-0 for the first time since 2011. The Tigers won two games in a row for the first time since 2011, and their defense didn’t yield a touchdown for the first time since 2011.
Offensively, first-year starting quarterback Nick Marshall showed progress in his second start, and running backs Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are establishing a reliable anchor.
The two non-conference games to open the season could not have gone much better for first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, but the Tigers also got a measure of validation on the West Coast on Saturday night. Washington State, which lost 31-24 at Auburn in the season opener, went on to beat then-No. 25 Southern California in Los Angeles.
Granted, the Cougars beat a watered-down, sanctioned-stripped and likely overrated USC team, but they did win in the Coliseum for the first time in 13 years. They also held the Trojans to 193 total yards.
Auburn had 394 total yards against State (295 rushing yards), but maybe the team Auburn beat in week 1 was better than first thought.
JSU: A running start
So, what to read from a 2-0 start to Clark’s tenure as head coach?
The Gamecocks amassed a school-record 523 rushing yards and a Football Championship Subdivision-record four 100-yard rushers Saturday, albeit against a non-scholarship program.
They opened the season by beating Alabama State, a team many regarded as highly talented. The Hornets are 0-2 after losing to Jackson State on Saturday.
First-game reliever Max Shortell looked like the answer at quarterback after the Alabama State game but was ineffective as the starter Saturday. Eli Jenkins, the Week 1 starter, came on in relief and conducted the Gamecocks’ ground assault.
Will the real JSU stand up? Maybe the real JSU stood up Saturday.
Much of what the Gamecocks did Saturday came at Clark’s urging, as he became more directly involved in the offense. His background is in defense, and defense-minded head coaches love a good running game from their offense.
Much like the Gamecocks did Saturday, one bets they’ll ride the running game until someone stops it.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.