Good job, Auburn Tigers, you managed to escape with a 31-24 win over a much dysfunctional offense of the Washington State Cougars on Saturday. Now you get to face a rowdy Arkansas State Red Wolves team, that is coming off back-to-back double-digit win seasons this next weekend. Just ask your coach, Gus Malzahn about their ninth consecutive win on Saturday, tied for the second-longest win streak in the nation. He lived most of it as the Red Wolves head man last season.
Auburn looked very vanilla with Malzahn’s hurry up offense Saturday night passing the football. Just 99 yards passing, in Auburn’s best showing offensively in two years against a BCS power conference opponent. Auburn quarterback and junior college transfer Nick Marshall was 10-of-19 passing in his first division one start, coming with nothing resembling a No. 1 receiver in this Tigers offense. Malzahn’s best offenses have been able to skate by with some kind of running threat, either with a quarterback or in the backfield, Saturday was no exception. Tiger running back Corey Grant went over the 100 rushing yards barrier, 146 yards on nine carries. The Tigers’ biggest lead was seven, without a Tre Mason 100-yard kickoff touchdown return, the game would have gone to overtime. Auburn snapped it 65 times, and averaged 6.06 yards a play. Malzahn with his eight different quarterbacks in his eight years as a college coach, will see where the Tigers chips fall when his offense trade scores with a terrific offense counter in Arkansas State this weekend.
Arkansas State is a prolific offense, and they have the muscle to hang points on just about anybody, especially seeing Auburn’s defense lay up in sleep against pretty average offenses a year ago. Arkansas State broke just about every school record with Malzahn, including total yards and points scored in a season. When Auburn had the nation’s 115th-ranked offense last season, Malzahn was instructing an Red Wolves offense that ranked 13th in the nation in passing efficiency and 17th in total offense. It’s hard to imagine where last season’s ASU quarterback Ryan Aplin’s career would have gone with another year in Malzahn’s hurry up offense, after accumulating a total of 3,342 passing yards in 2012.
Bryan Harsin, at 35 years young, becomes the third head coach in as many years for the Red Wolves, who have won the Sunbelt the previous two seasons. While another Boise State head coach Chris Petersen disciple, Brent Pease at Florida wants to right the past on the Gators offense, Harsin wants to put this Jonesboro based program at even higher levels. Arkansas State had just one winning season during the time of 1990-2010, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and Malzahn together brought ASU to two straight 10 win seasons in back to back seasons. Harsin can immediately have the Red Wolves in the BCS buster category with Western Kentucky and Fresno State with a win here. Harsin brings something different than the previous two head coaches at his current program, an increased focus at running the football.
This was evident on Saturday. ASU had four different rushers go over 100 yards in their 62-11 demolition derby of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Red Wolves’ 62 points scored, was the 5th most in FBS games last weekend. The Red Wolves focus at the ground game, help setup 509 rushing yards Saturday, which leads the country after week one.
ASU has played giants in the past and competed very early against Nebraska and Oregon last season, and have a rushing attack that will give them a clear cut advantage to get first year quarterback Adam Kennedy in the onset of the game. Red Wolves receiver J.D McKissic is a built in option for Kennedy, leading the team with 103 catches for well over a 1,000 receiving yards in 2012.
Before Arkansas State, Harsin’s last two seasons as a co-offensive coordinator for Texas had his running backs score 57 combined rushing touchdowns. His 2012 Longhorn offense, led by running backs Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Jonathan Gray, scored 36 points per game. Harsin will take that running tendency onto the road to spoil another SEC opponent’s 2013 fate on Sept.28, Missouri.
Auburn’s meeting with Arkansas State will be the third between the teams; the teams started playing in 2006. The Tigers have defeated the Red Wolves both times, 27-0 in 2006 and doubling ASU, in the 2010 year of Cam Newton, 52-26.