Nov. 2, 2013
Tre Mason is anchoring Auburn's run game (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – So much of the week has been a guessing game on who'll be Auburn's starting quarterback against Arkansas on Saturday night.
Injured Nick Marshall? Backup Jeremy Johnson?
Auburn has played both and done well with both, so the focus could be on what Auburn does best.
Running the football.
Today's playbook: Auburn leads the SEC in rushing offense. Arkansas is 11th in the SEC in rushing defense. Arkansas' defensive specialty is the pass rush, leading the SEC in sacks. Auburn has attempted the second fewest passes in the league, reducing the sack threat dramatically.
Marshall was knocked out of last week's game with a shoulder injury, though the Tigers still had plenty to beat Florida Atlantic 45-10. He hopes to play in today's 5 p.m. game.
Auburn is 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC. Arkansas, is 3-5 overall and 0-4 in the league.
The Tigers might throw more with Johnson, but…
They may instead rely on steady running back Tre Mason with an occasional eye on big-play receiving potential of Sammie Coates, two of the team's statistical leaders.
Mason has rushed for 753 yards and nine touchdowns. Legit? Consider Auburn hasn't padded his stats. He only had six carries against Western Carolina and six more against Florida Atlantic. He's averaging more than 100 yards a game in SEC play.
Coates is the big-play receiving alternative with 21 catches for 536 yards, and his 25.5-yard per-catch average leads the nation.
The Tigers have had more yards rushing than passing in six of its first eight games. One reason why is Mason's toughness this season, said coach Gus Malzahn.
"The thing that really stands out about Tre this year is he's getting very tough yards," Malzahn said. "He's breaking the first tackle on numerous times, really, just playing hard, physical football. He's been protecting the football very well. He's definitely improving and he's a big weapon for us."
Coates caught two long touchdowns last week from Johnson after Marshall injured his shoulder.
Coates' role has grown as the season has played out.
"He's very gifted. He can flat-out run," Malzahn said. "Every week I think you see him running by guys who are very fast. He's definitely a deep threat, but he's worked very hard on his intermediate game. He's also getting better playing without the ball. I think he has a chance to be really special, if he keeps working."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine