Sep 6, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. – Tonight’s game against Arkansas State wasn’t scheduled to be a big test for Auburn. It was scheduled to be a victory for Auburn and a $1.1 million check for Arkansas State.
Funny how things can change.
Not only do the Red Wolves come to town with the nation’s second longest winning streak at nine games, but they come with a mountain of motivation. First-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was Arkansas State’s first-year head coach last season. And when he left for Auburn, a dozen assistant coaches and staff members followed him.
Auburn opened the Malzahn era last Saturday with a 31-24 victory over Washington State. Arkansas State rushed for more than 500 yards in beating Arkansas-Pine Bluff, an FCS foe with a dozen players suspended, 66-11.
One thing is certain: The Red Wolves not only believe they can win, they plan on winning. The oddsmakers aren’t buying it. Auburn is an 11-point favorite.
Breaking it down:
How will the departure of Malzahn for Auburn factor into the game?
It will, no doubt, be a source of inspiration for Arkansas State players. John Thompson was Malzahn’s defensive coordinator last season and is the Red Wolves’ defensive coordinator now. He’ll have a good idea what to expect from Malzahn’s offense and Malzahn will have a good idea what to expect from his defense.
The running games
Against very weak competition, the Red Wolves had some eye-popping statistics last Saturday. They rushed for 511 yards. Four backs had more than 100 yards rushing. David Oku rushed for 124 yards. Oku is a big-time talent who first played at Tennessee. Auburn rushed for 297 yards against Washington State, led by Corey Grant’s 146 yards. There’s no way to know, really, whether Arkansas State will plan on featuring the running game or the passing game.
Auburn’s Nick Marshall didn’t play great in last Saturday’s season-opening 31-24 victory over Washington State, but he wasn’t bad either. With a little more help from his teammates, he would have had a much better day statistically.
Arkansas State’s Adam Kennedy was 9-of-12 for 149 yards and a touchdown. What did that mean against a suspension-decimated SWAC team that lost to Alabama A&M last season? It’s impossible to say.
The Tigers struggled to stop Washington State’s passing game in the first half, then went to man coverage and held the Cougar to three points in the second half. Washington State had some success running the ball, but that was against only five defenders in the box. Auburn must contain Arkansas State’s running game to win. You certainly won’t see five in the box.
The Montravius Adams factor
The freshman defensive tackle might have been the spark that Auburn’s defense needed last Saturday. He ran over an offensive lineman and got a sack on his first college play. He hounded the quarterback all night long. Arkansas State will certainly be aware of his presence. Will that matter?
The bottom line
Auburn will have more depth and more talent across the board than Arkansas State will have, but teams with less talent win every Saturday. Malzahn says the Tigers will have to play better than they did last week to win. And he’s probably right.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: