CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Top Sports

September 7, 2013

AUBURN FOOTBALL: Malzahn sees Red Wolves as one of nation’s hottest teams

AUBURN — Auburn coach Gus Malzahn might as well be singing his own praises when he calls Arkansas State “one of the hottest teams in college football.”

Malzahn led the Red Wolves through most of their current nine-game winning streak and to a Sun Belt Conference championship last season, so he knows about their personnel and personality going into Saturday night’s game.

“They know how to win, and they expect to win,” Malzahn said.

That’s the mentality he’s trying to cultivate for his new team, too.

The Tigers (1-0) and Arkansas State (1-0) both are led by coaches who made their reputations as offensive coordinators, Malzahn at Auburn and Tulsa; Arkansas State’s Bryan Harsin at Texas and Boise State.

Malzahn calls Harsin “one of the better offensive minds in all of college football.” He said he and Harsin visited to talk offense in 2007, when Malzahn was at Tulsa.

Nevertheless, both relied heavily on the running games instead of new starting quarterbacks in their openers.

Malzahn, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes helped recruit some of those Arkansas State players.

The familiarity goes both ways. Red Wolves co-offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz was a Malzahn assistant.

“They’ve got very good players on their side,” Harsin said. “That’s more of what the challenge is, is trying to go against the type of players that they have. Our players have watched the film, and they know that the opponent they’re going to play against is very good. So we have a big challenge on top of that, along with the knowledge that he knows these players and they know he’s been around them and so he understands them.

“But the biggest thing is just the one-on-one battles and the opponent that we have to play. We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us.”

Five things to watch when Auburn takes on Arkansas State on Saturday night:

‰ Running Back Platoons: Arkansas State became only the seventh FBS team to have four 100-yard rushers in a game in the opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. David Oku is the star but Sirgregory Thornton, Michael Gordon and Fredi Knighten combined for 315 yards and five touchdowns on just 16 carries. Auburn’s Corey Grant (146), Tre Mason (73) and Cameron Artis-Payne (52) also rotated against Washington State.

‰ New QBs: Both offenses kept tight reins on their new starting quarterbacks in the openers. Auburn’s Nick Marshall passed for 99 yards while Utah State transfer Adam Kennedy threw for 149 and attempted just 12 passes. Neither threw an interception, but they could be called on to do more in this game.

‰ Secondary Matchup: Auburn defensive back Robenson Therezie, making his first start, accounted for two of Auburn’s three interceptions against Washington State. That’s one more than the Tigers had all of last season. They’ll face receiver J.D. McKissic, who had only 3 yards on two catches in the opener but collected a school-record 103 receptions in 2012. Malzahn calls him “phenomenal.”

‰ Winning Streak: Arkansas State is trying to match its longest winning streak since going 11-0 in 1975. Harsin is also trying to become the program’s first head coach to start out 2-0.

‰ Auburn Receivers: They had drops, near-misses on deep balls that could have been touchdowns and few big plays. The Tigers are clearly still searching for a go-to receiver, or just a few reliable ones. Sammie Coates and Quan Bray both had three catches in the opener. Other candidates include Ricardo Louis and Jaylon Denson.

1
Text Only
Top Sports