No. 7 Auburn aiming to avoid FCS blues against Alabama State
By JOHN ZENOR
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) The Auburn Tigers face an entirely new challenge after winning a Top 10 matchup.
The seventh-ranked Tigers want to play well against an FCS opponent after struggling in that scenario twice in the past few seasons. They face Alabama State, a Southwestern Athletic Conference team, on Saturday night.
Auburn, 1-0 after a win over No. 9 Washington , lost six fumbles in a 24-10 win over FCS Mercer last season. In 2015, the Tigers went to overtime against small-college power Jacksonville State.
Coach Gus Malzahn and his veterans are well aware of that sketchy recent history.
"We don't take anything for granted," Malzahn said. "The good teams that have a chance to win championships don't. This week is about us getting better. Last week's behind us. We've got to figure out a way to get better, and there's all kind of areas that we should improve on and we need to improve on. And that's the way we're approaching this game."
This game would certainly appear to be a huge mismatch. The Hornets (1-0) are coming off an overtime win against rival Tuskegee, a Division II team.
And Auburn walloped another SWAC team from the state, Alabama A&M, last season.
But if the Tigers need a battle cry to get them motivated, there's always, "Remember Mercer."
"If you remember last year, we went out there against Mercer and we didn't play Auburn football," tailback Kam Martin said. "This year, we want to take every game and approach it at a high level."
It will be a first for Alabama State coach Donald Hill-Eley, who was promoted after serving much of last season as interim head coach. He pointed out that the Tigers beat defending national champion Alabama last season
"I've coached programs that have gone against your Marylands, Rutgers, Akrons and others, but I have never coached against a team that beat the national champions," Eley said. "Sometimes I tell the young men that you better watch what you pray for. You probably prayed for this opportunity to play at that level and come Saturday afternoon, your prayer will be answered as they put their hand in the grass and play against some of the top-caliber athletes in the country."
Here are some things to know about the Alabama State-Auburn game:
AUBURN'S GROUND GAME
The Tigers are trying to improve on the running game after averaging just 3.3 yards per carry against Washington. It could be a chance for Martin's backups, like JaTarvious Whitlow, to get a chance to better establish themselves.
With a matchup against No. 11 LSU looming, Auburn would like to minimize the hits and risk to quarterback Jarrett Stidham. That could mean ample playing time for backup Malik Willis. Freshman Joey Gatewood is expected to remain out with a thumb injury.
Alabama State quarterback Darryl Pearson was part of the Arkansas State team that lost to Auburn 51-14 in 2016. Pearson transferred after a redshirt year and started for the Hornets part of last season.
AUBURN VS. SWAC
The Tigers have only played two games against the league of historically black schools, beating Alabama A&M in 2012 (51-7) and 2016 (55-0).
The Auburn linebacker was the SEC defensive player of the week. He had eight tackles and a fumble recovery against Washington.
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Updated September 7, 2018