Sep 7, 2013
Tre Mason crashes through the line in the season-opener (Anthony Hall photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — You know all those whacky signs that players hold up that signal in plays? Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee rely on them, and Arkansas State knows all about them.
Auburn and Arkansas State play tonight at 6:30 in Jordan-Hare Stadium in an old-fashioned reunion for Malzahn and Lashlee, who coached at Arkansas State last season, and all the players and the coaches they left behind.
Auburn doesn't huddle, so everything starts with the signs. Could Arkansas State knows what Auburn is calling? Probably not, since there are so many faces and so many combinations for those signs. In any case, Auburn won't get into a situation where it will fool itself.
"You’ve got to keep the integrity of your communication system," Malzahn said. "That’s always something that you are aware of when you’ve got somebody that used to work with you, so we’ve thought through that."
Actually, Malzahn has played through that. Lashlee was with Malzahn at Auburn in 2009-10 before he left to become the offensive coordinator at Samford. Auburn and Samford played the next season.
"You have to think ahead when you’re playing somebody," Malzahn said.
A lot of the signals Auburn used in last week's 31-24 season-opening win over Washington State called for conservative plays. Malzahn wanted it that way as new quarterback Nick Marshall was eased into action.
Lashlee said the signal corps didn't do anything tricky in that game to throw off Arkansas State.
"We've had our hands full just trying to coach our guys up. It works both ways. They're going to know us well; they're going to know us well," Lashlee said.
Auburn relied heavily on its running backs in the opener, and that may be the direction the offense goes throughout the year. Raise your hand if you ha6 Corey Grant as a Top 10 rusher in the nation after the first week of the season. He's there with 144 yards.
Auburn running backs rushed for 271 yards and accounted for 418 all-purpose yards. They showed their speed, like on Grant's 75-yard touchdown run; they're versatility, like on Tre Mason's 100-yard kickoff return; and the trust they've won, like when Cameron Artis-Payne lined up as the Wildcat quarterback.
"To have three different types of backs gives us a lot of versatility." Malzahn said. "At times, you will see more of them on the field at the same time and stuff like that, but it gives us a lot of versatility.
"Those three guys are very unique. Cameron Artis- Payne is a big guy, but he has some explosiveness to him, too. Tre Mason has a little bit of both; he can run inside and he can have speed. Corey can run and Corey has gotten stronger."
Arkansas State has a stable of running backs, too. The Red Wolves had four running backs rush for more than 100 yards in last Saturday's 62-11 drubbing of over-matched Arkansas-Pine Bluff. That was just the seventh time in big-time college football that's happened.
Leading the way was David Oku, once heavily recruited by Auburn who signed with Tennessee and ended up in Jonesboro. He rushed for 124 yards.
Malzahn will stick with his guys, and will look for more consistency from the offense, which he called "average at best" after the opener, but downgraded it to "below average" after looking at the video.
He said the mistakes can be corrected.
"We have to execute, we have to do what we are supposed to do, and it takes all 11. That is not easy, but it is not easy to win, either."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine