- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Auburn will play its fourth and final non-conference game this Saturday against Florida Atlantic, and based on recent history, the Tigers should feel pretty good going in. They have won 22 straight and 29 of their last 30 non-conference home games. All but four of those wins came by double figures.
Here are five things to watch during Saturday’s clash with the Owls:
Avoiding the hangover: Auburn is the far superior team Saturday. Even if the Tigers were sitting at 3-4 right now, they would still be heavy favorites against Florida Atlantic. But they’re not. They’re 6-1 and coming off a road win against a top-10 team. They’re ranked No. 11 in a season where most thought they’d be lucky to crack the top 25. How will they approach this game now? Gus Malzahn and his staff have done a good job of staying the course and not looking too far ahead, but don’t be surprised if Auburn overlooks the Owls and comes out a little flat.
Secondary shift: Starting safety Joshua Holsey missed the Texas A&M game due to injury, and it was announced Sunday that he would be out the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Auburn shifted some players around in the secondary, moving Ryan White into the starting lineup, and it paid off against the Aggies. White made his first career interception, and fellow safety Ryan Smith also added a pick. But how will that alignment work for the rest of the season? There’s also a chance that cornerback Jonathan Jones will return to the lineup Saturday, adding yet another piece to the revolving puzzle the secondary has become.
Dueling quarterbacks: There’s no quarterback controversy on the Plains, but the staff didn’t take the redshirt off freshman signal caller Jeremy Johnson for no reason. He was 0 for 2 passing against Texas A&M, but he’s expected to play a bigger role in the future. Saturday’s game is the perfect opportunity for the former ESPN 300 recruit to gain some more experience. Nick Marshall showed why he’s still the starter against the Aggies and he’ll likely play the majority of this game, but if the Tigers get up big, they could turn the reigns over to Johnson in the second half, if not sooner.
Ford focus: If all goes well, there should be plenty of newcomers who see the field for Auburn on Saturday, not just Johnson. The one to keep an eye on is Johnathan Ford. He was a running back in high school but converted to cornerback when he arrived on campus. He played sparingly through the first six games and even scored a touchdown -- as a running back -- against Western Carolina two weeks ago. He’d love to get a chance to get in the end zone again, but the audition that matters will come on the defensive side of the ball, where he could earn more playing time in a depleted secondary.
Atmosphere at Jordan-Hare: Toomer’s Corner hadn’t seen a rolling like last Saturday since the 2010 season when Auburn won the national championship. The excitement around the program is back. Before the season, not many people circled this game on the calendar, but don’t be surprised if the atmosphere is better than expected because the fans want to support their team now more than ever. That’s what winning will do. The Tigers have yet to lose at home, and they would love nothing more to finish that way. They still have Alabama and Georgia coming to town, but it starts Saturday with Florida Atlantic.
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