Auburn's tailbacks give Gus Malzahn options

Sept. 12, 2013

CoreyGrant
Corey Grant was on the run against Arkansas State (Anthony Hall photo)

By Charles Goldberg
AuburnTigers.com

AUBURN, Ala. -- They have shared the ball so much that their rushing stats are close and they find themselves ranked among the top 15 rushers in the SEC. 

Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne have given Auburn coach Gus Malzahn plenty of leeway in his running back rotation in the first two games of the season. The Tigers will be looking for that kind of flexibility in Saturday's 6 p.m. game against Mississippi State in Jordan-Hare Stadium. 

Malzahn said the three running backs have been agreeable to sharing the ball. 

"That's definitely where it starts. They root for each other," Malzahn said during the school's Tiger Talk radio show Thursday night. "They are all three unique; they all three have their own strengths. As a play-caller, it helps you utlizies them in different ways. Really, I think that has become one of our strengths." 

Corey Grant has the single biggest play from scrimmage of the trio, a 75-yard touchdown run. He also has the most yards, 186 on 16 carries. Mason has 172 yards on 29 carries. Artis-Payne has 154 yards on 29 carries. 

They account for five of Auburn's seven touchdowns from scrimmage. 

But Malzahn isn't turning his back on the passing game. He said he'd open up the playbook "a little bit" each week for new quarterback Nick Marshall. 

"Our quarterback didn't go through spring so we're trying to put him in the right situations," Malzahn said. 

"He was very accurate with the deep ball in fall camp, and we think we'll see  more and more of that." 

Some other notes from the radio show... 

•Auburn said the intensity will be different Saturday after opening with wins over Washington State and Arkansas State. 

 "Now that we're entering the SEC it's a completely different ballgame. We have to raise our level," Malzahn said. 

• Malzahn said new wide receiver Marcus Davis "reminds me of Emory Blake when he was a freshman. Marcus He impressed us in fall camp." Davis had a touchdown catch last week. 

•Auburn has allowed 24 first-half points, but only nine in the second half. 

"I think we're wearing guys down in the second half. Our guys are in good condition," Malzahn said. 

•On the early success of former Oregon coach Chip Kelly with his fast-paced offense  with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. 

"Now that Chip is going to the NFL, you'll see more and more teams use pace. Chip is one of the best in the business. There's no doubt he'll be successful and I think you'll see more and more do what he does," Malzahn said. 

•On if Auburn's own pace will be improved. 

"It better be Saturday," he said. 

Malzahn said Auburn "got a little pace going" in the second half in last Saturday 38-9 win over Arkansas State.

•On five offensive holding penalties in that game: 

"The way I look at it, if it's close, it's holding. If the referees start calling everything close...as players, you have to adjust to that.  The positive is, our guys were really trying to get after it. 

"Our approach was everyone of them was holding. We've got to do a better job of that. We have to be more disciplined.  I expect that to get better."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: