Auburn Football: Previewing Week 1 vs. Washington State

By Zach Virnig
Washington State Cougars Football, Auburn Tigers Football
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

One wise man once said that points don’t grow on trees in the Mecca of college football — you must play defense at a high standard to win championships.

Don’t tell that to the Washington State Cougars and Auburn Tigers, both of whom meet up next Saturday and are wired to generate basketball final scores, so don’t adjust your television set when points are flying in bunches from start to finish.

Both teams’ fates went south in 2012. Auburn went winless in the SEC for the first time since 1980 with three overall wins for the first time since 1998. Meanwhile, Washington State posted a lackluster 3-9 clip. The game presents major implications for the two teams, and a win here would rejuvenate a long offseason full of changes.

Auburn should be the favorite in the game. Its offense is much farther along at this stage, even with a first-year quarterback. Auburn has the players and system to accommodate their coach, Gus Malzahn, who coordinated its offense to a BCS National Championship in 2010.

The 2013 Auburn offense should add another gear to the top-flight speed the offense was running with before Malzahn left. Quarterback Nick Marshall‘s ability to improvise with his feet should limit the Cougars’ excellent pass rush, ranked 11th in the nation in most sacks a year ago.

Defensive coordinator Mike Breske bring in an aggressive defense full of random blitzes from the back end, Marshall could find a lot of daylight full of open windows and seams coming from an inexperienced defensive backfield. Marshall passed  for over 3,000 yards at Garden City (Kansas) Community College last season.

Auburn’s ultra-quick running back Tre Mason has the ability to compliment Marshall’s handle of the hurry-up offense, seen best with last season’s 1,002 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Malzahn’s will continue to run the ball when junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne rolls with the offense.

When Washington State goes on offense, they will hang their hats on their passing attack. Wazzu must match points to stay in this game, as their defense will probably not having enough juice to go all four rounds with a high-octane system.

The status of Auburn’s defense against Mike Leach will be the climax of the whole story. Quarterback play was the catalyst for  last season’s eight-game losing streak, as Connor Halliday‘s  numbers snake bit the Cougars’ entire growth on offense in 2012.

Meanwhile, Auburn’s defensive depth has taken a hit the last couples of weeks after injuries sustained by defensive end Dee Ford and second-string cornerback Jonathan Jones. Safety Demetruce McNeal, who would have fitted ideally with Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 scheme, was suspended from the team last week.

Auburn’s losses shouldn’t have a ripple down effect, as the Tigers know how to stop the Cougars’ air-raid offense that can’t run the football. Wazzu ran for a combined 350 yards in 2012. Teondray Caldwell has a nation-worst per carry average at 1.38. To Make matters worse, Wazzu projects to start three, maybe four walk-ons on the offensive line, which gave up a nation-worst 57 sacks in Leach’s inaugural campaign.

Washington State will take their battles on the outside against Auburn’s defense. Washington State has two game-changers in underclassmen receivers Gabe Marks and Dominique Williams. Marks nicely fits into the void left by Marquess Wilson, and had himself one of the best performances by a freshman in the conference, accumulating 560 receiving yards.

On the opposite side, Williams registered three total scores, including over 300 combined yards in his last three games.

Halliday’s game relies on these guys getting in the open and running crisp routes. Halliday has been ineffective with getting the ball out of his hands. Redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Apodaca coming in to spell Halliday would not be a great indication of how well the game is going.

Auburn should make enough stops defensively to take the onus off Marshall. Auburn wins 41-28.

Zach Virnig is a SEC Writer for Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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