After jumping up two spots in the polls to No. 7 following its 21-16 win over then No. 6 Washington, Auburn (1-0) looks to work on correcting mistakes as it hosts Alabama State (1-0) in its home opener Saturday.
Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. ET at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium and on the SEC Network.
Coach Gus Malzahn is hoping for more out of his running game after the Tigers rushed for only 147 yards — 71 yards under their 2017 average, and he wants far fewer penalties. Officials stepped off 111 yards on 12 penalties against the Tigers.
“What really stood out to me is we’ve got to run the football better,” Malzahn said in recapping the win. “I give Washington credit — great run defense — but we need to improve in that area. We gave up a few deep passes, they made some outstanding plays with that.
“Really the main thing with me is the penalties. The penalties we had are completely unacceptable. We take great pride in not beating ourselves, and so we are going to focus on that and that will be corrected moving forward.”
Running back Kam Martin accounted for 80 of the rushing yards and redshirt freshman Jatarvious Whitlow added 28 on eight carries, 10 coming on a third-down dash up the middle for what proved to be the decisive touchdown.
Malzahn praised Washington as a team that was “good as advertised.”
“That team is going to be tough to beat,” he said. “They’ve got a complete team. And that’s why I was proud of our group that we found a way to win.
“We knew it would be close at the end. We didn’t win any close games last year, but we did this year and we can take that moving forward the next time we’re in that situation.”
He also is taking a page out of the traditional coaching handbook in his approach to the upcoming game against the SWAC foe.
“We don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “The good teams that have a chance to win a championship don’t. This week is about us getting better.
“Last week is behind us and we have to figure out a way to get better. There’s all kinds of areas that we should improve on and need to improve on, and that’s the way we are approaching this game.”
Malzahn also may have memories of the 2015 meeting with another FCS foe, Jacksonville State, that nearly resulted in one of the most shocking upsets of that or any season. The Tigers needed overtime before escaping with the 26-20 victory.
That said, Alabama State doesn’t seem to be the measure of that Jacksonville State team. The Hornets beat Tuskegee 26-20 in their opener last week in a game that their coach, Donald Hill-Eley, said continued a pattern of grinding out wins that went back to last season when they won five of their last six games after starting the year 0-5.
“Just resilience,” Hill-Eley said. “You have to have success for them to continue to believe. The resilience that they showed toward the end of last year, going from 0-5 to 5-1.
“They found a way to win and now they have been doing that for seven games and more importantly this shows them that collectively we are playing well enough to win.”
The Hornets trailed 20-13 at the end of three quarters and shut out the Golden Tigers in the fourth quarter and extra period. Tuskegee had the first possession of overtime but came up empty when Alabama State defensive tackle Christian Clark blocked its field goal attempt.
Alabama State won it on Ezra Gray’s 30-yard run on the second play of its possession.
“A well-fought contest by our young men,” Hill-Eley said. “They kept their composure so many times as it was going up and down. Defense and offense picked up when they needed to. Any time you’re in your first game and play like both teams played, it is nothing but tradition.”