Sep 7, 2013
Auburn's Jermaine Whitehead showed J.D. McKissic what the Tigers' defense was about (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn's Gus Malzahn said he didn't think his Tigers would hold Arkansas State's high-powered offense to zero touchdowns.
But Auburn did.
The Tigers ran their no-touchdown defense to six-plus quarters and unleashed their bevy of running backs en route to a 38-9 victory over the Red Wolves.
"I think this team has potential," Malzahn said when it was over.
The storyline before the game was how Malzahn was coaching against the team that gave him his first head coaching job, just a year ago. But the game was about the development of quarterback Nick Marshall, a running game that wore down Arkansas State and a defense that hasn't allowed a touchdown in 19 straight series.
Arkansas State tried, but saw three up-close series end in Brian Davis field goals.
"That's two weeks in a row our defense stood up down there," Malzahn said. "That was definitely a good thing."
Malzahn was proud of that because he said the Red Wolves "have some phenomenal skill guys."
Auburn and Malzahn improved to 2-0 against the Red Wolves and Washington State, a team that beat Southern California 10-7 Saturday night. The Tigers can match Auburn's win total from last year if they beat Mississippi State in their SEC opener next Saturday.
Auburn snapped the nation's second-longest winning streak — a 9-gamer — when it beat the Red Wolves.
Marshall came in after an up-and-down debut against Washington State. But he looked far more comfortable in his second game in Malzahn's offense.
He threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to freshman Marcus Davis and a perfect 68-yard TD strike to Sammie Coates in the first half.
"The big pass play was huge. It gave us a big sigh of relief," Malzahn said.
By halftime, Marshall had thrown and rushed for more yards than he had in the Tigers' 31-24 win over Washington State in the opener. He finished hitting 10-of-17 passes for 147 yards and those two touchdowns, plus 53 yards rushing.
"He was more comfortable this game than the last game. I feel like that will improve," Malzahn said.
"Anytime you have a quarterback who is a run threat...it opens everything up."
The offense was far more than just Nick Marshall, however. The trio of Corey Grant, Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for a combined 241 yards. Artis-Payne led the way with 102 yards and a touchdown. Mason went for 99 and a score. Grant, who had 144 yards in the opener, had 40.
"My big deal is just consistency. I do feel like we improved from last week," Malzahn said.
Malzahn said the tempo of his offense was a lot better, and tempo and pace are his keys.
Marshall was 7-of-12 passing for 139 yards by the half. Mason, Grant and Artis-Payne were on their way, too.
Grant scored on a 17-yard run in the first quarter. Mason scored on an 11-yard run in the third quarter. Artis-Payne added a 12-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Cody Parkey added a 35-yard field goal — his fourth of the season — in the fourth quarter.
Malzahn celebrated when it was over, and remembered his Arkansas State players he left behind.
"It was pretty emotional. There are a bunch of great kids over there," he said. "I wish them nothing but the best."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine