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Jacksonville State Gamecocks vs. Auburn Tigers Preview and Prediction

Author:
Jeremy Johnson

Jeremy Johnson

The Auburn Tigers earned a season-opening 31-24 win against Louisville in Week 1. The Tigers’ defense looked improved under new coordinator Will Muschamp with two turnovers in the first quarter.

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Auburn's rushing attack was as strong as ever with 190 yards and two touchdowns on 41 attempts. In Week 2, the Tigers host Jacksonville State — who went 10-2 (8-0) in 2014 as Ohio Valley Conference champions — in their first game of 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Jacksonville State at Auburn

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: N/A

Three Things to Watch

1. Will Jeremy Johnson Bounce Back?
Johnson didn't look like the Heisman candidate many expected in Week 1. Despite recording two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) his three interceptions were the biggest takeaway from his debut as Auburn's starting quarterback. But Johnson's Heisman campaign is far from finished. He has an opportunity to regain his confidence with a big game against an FCS opponent in Week 2. Johnson should find an early rhythm Saturday with one of the SEC's top wide receiver groups facing a favorable matchup.

Related: Should Auburn Fans Worry After Jeremy Johnson's Lackluster Performance?

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2. Is Peyton Barber the Feature Back?

When Cameron Artis-Payne — the SEC's leading rusher — departed, the focus was on former four-star prospect Roc Thomas and top JUCO transfer Jovon Robinson to take over as the team's feature back. Instead, it was Barber who saw the majority of carries in Auburn's 2015 debut. Barber rushed for 115 yards on 24 attempts. Both Thomas and Robinson left the games with injuries, which offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee told Al.com were "nothing major." Still, it will be interesting to see if Barber remains the primary back once both players are at 100 percent based on his strong debut performance.

3. Muschamp's Defense

Much of Auburn's preseason hype was due to the hiring of Muschamp as defensive coordinator. Muschamp-coached teams ranked in the top 10 in the FBS each year since 2009. Auburn hasn't finished higher than No. 60 in the past six seasons, which includes two teams (2010, ‘13) that either made it to or won the BCS title game. Still, many expected big things with the former Florida coach inheriting a defense that includes veteran linebackers Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost and potential All-SEC pass rusher Carl Lawson. The defense did look impressive with two first quarter turnovers — a 35-yard interception by Tray Matthews that set up Auburn's first score and an 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Justin Garrett. Muschamp's group should continue its success against a capable, yet still overmatched FCS opponent.

Final Analysis

Auburn enjoys a dominant win in Week 2. Saturday's matchup provides the Tigers with a tune-up game they lacked by facing a Louisville team that finished 2014 ranked 24th in country. Auburn needs this matchup to boost its confidence — specifically Johnson after a disappointing debut — before the difficult task of facing LSU in Death Valley next Saturday.

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Prediction: Auburn 42, Jacksonville State 3

— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.