AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn will face his former team in his second game as head coach at Auburn when Arkansas State visits today.
After being bombarded through the air in its season opener, the Tigers will have to adjust to being pounded on the ground if they want to improve to 2-0 under Malzahn. Auburn dealt with 65 passes from Washington State in a 31-24 victory in its season opener and now welcomes the Red Wolves, who rushed 57 times for an eye-popping 509 yards and eight touchdowns in a 62-11 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Of course, Malzahn is quite familiar with the run-first mentality of Arkansas State, having led the Red Wolves to a 10-3 record and the Sun Belt Conference title last season before returning to Auburn, where he was offensive coordinator from 2009-11.
His Tigers can also dish it out on the ground, as they proved by running the ball 46 times for 295 yards against the Cougars. Leading the way was junior tailback Corey Grant, who ran for 146 yards and a TD on only nine carries (16.2 yards per attempt).
The Red Wolves tied an FBS record with four backs who exceeded 100 yards in the opener: seniors David Oku (124) and Sirgregory Thornton (112) and sophomores Michael Gordon (102) and Fredi Knighten (101). However, they aren’t completely one-dimensional. Senior quarterback Adam Kennedy passed for 149 yards and a score, giving Arkansas State 672 yards of total offense, second most in school history (681 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette in 2007)
The season opener was anything but easy for the Tigers, who never led the Cougars by more than a touchdown. Along with Grant, junior back Tre Mason helped carry the load (73 yards, TD) and added the highlight of the night with a 100-yard kickoff return. On defense, junior safety Robenson Therezie had two interceptions and seven tackles in his first career start, earning SEC defensive player of the week honors.
More will be expected of Auburn QB Nick Marshall today.
One reason is that Auburn’s quarterback has the benefit of viewing film of last week’s game against Washington State, giving him another chance to look at his mistakes. More importantly, Malzahn said following Wednesday’s practice, the experience he gained against the Cougars should pay dividends today.
“I think anytime you go out there and experience something, you’re going to better the second time,” Malzahn said. “I know his nerves are going to be better. He’s a competitor. He wants to do well and he’s hard on himself.”
Each practice, Malzahn has seen his quarterback become more comfortable in his mastery of the offense, now simply reacting instead of having to think through his reads. Improvement isn’t reserved for Marshall alone, however.
“We’re expecting more from all of our players as far as the different things that we can do and the execution,” Malzahn said.