Who: Arkansas State Red Wolves (1-0) at Auburn Tigers (1-0)
When: 6:30 p.m. CT (FSN)
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama
All-Time Series Record: Auburn leads 2-0-0
Most Recent Meeting: Auburn 52, Arkansas State 26 (2010)
Week one has come and gone. Auburn has played 60 minutes of football. So now we know what kind of team Auburn’s going to have this year, right?
Against Washington State, Gus Malzahn’s high-speed offense played a slower pace than expected while executing a very vanilla scheme, as to not reveal much of the offense and protect first-time starter Nick Marshall. Marshall threw for just 99 yards against the Cougars on 10/19 passing and missed multiple opportunities for big plays.
Defensively, the Tigers were facing a scheme they’ve never really seen before and won’t see again for some time. While Auburn gave up 464 yards of offense to WSU (including a surprising 120 on the ground), they intercepted 3 passes and gave up 3 points in the second half after being burned on multiple occasions in the first half.
So, basically, the first game only told us that this team is better than it was last year. How much better? We have no idea. How improved was Washington State? How far below their potential did Auburn fall in the first game? These questions have no answers yet.
Now, Gus Malzahn’s old team, Arkansas State, brings their 9-game winning streak (2nd longest in the FBS) to the Plains. Their fans and players have a chip on their shoulder for Gus Malzahn. They’re one of the Sun Belt’s most talented, well-coached teams, and they would like nothing more than to beat Auburn in their own stadium at night.
Key for Auburn: Defensive line play. Arkansas State ran for over 500 yards against Arkansas Pine-Bluff (who, honestly, is a glorified high school team). They had not one, not two, not three, but FOUR running backs go for over 100 yards in the game. Auburn’s defensive line somewhat underperformed against Washington State, sacking Connor Halliday twice but also being pushed around by the Cougars’ offensive line at some points in the game. Gabe Wright and DeAngelo Blackson need to step up so the burden won’t be felt by newcomers like Montravious Adams and Ben Bradley again. If Arkansas State establishes a running game against the Tigers, they’ll put themselves in position for an upset. Also, the offense needs to gain more first downs to sustain drives, so the defense won’t be on the field quite as much as it was against Wazzu.
Key for Arkansas State: Defensive line play, also. Auburn’s offense underperformed their own expectations against Washington State and still gained 295 rushing yards. Corey Grant gained 146 yards and a TD on only 9 carries (16.2 yards per carry). Tre Mason gained 73 yards and a TD on 15 carries, but also displayed his talents with a kickoff return TD, giving him 222 all-purpose yards in week one (3rd-best in the SEC). Cameron Artis-Payne, MVP of the spring game, picked up 52 yards on 10 carries. Quarterback Nick Marshall was basically instructed not to run all night, but he still picked up 27 yards on few carries. Needless to say, Arkansas State will have their hands full. Going up against a talented offensive line anchored by center Reese Dismukes, A-State’s defensive line will have to step up big to stop Auburn’s rushing attack. They did only give up 12 rushing yards in week one, but Auburn is a different beast.
Auburn player to watch: Sammie Coates. Auburn only connected on one deep pass in week one, courtesy of Sammie Coates, who made an athletic 34-yard catch to convert a 3rd-and-9. As the offense becomes more and more creative in terms of play-calling, Nick Marshall will need a stand-out WR he can rely on. If week one was an indication, Coates could develop into that guy. Ricardo Louis and Quan Bray will be worth watching, too. Basically, any wide receiver will be a player to watch, just to see if any can become Marshall’s #1 target.
Arkansas State player to watch: David Oku. Last week, I pointed out Deone Bucannon as a stand-out player for WSU. He led a WSU secondary that played well against the pass and he also laid a huge hit on Corey Grant in the 3rd quarter. This week, watch out for ASU’s leading rusher, the former Tennessee Volunteer who gained 124 yards in week one. As a highly-touted recruit, he fizzled out at Tennessee after the Lane Kiffin debacle. Bada-bing, bada-boom, now he’s Arkansas State’s top running back and, yes, he’s still talented. Expect him to receive more carries than any other Red Wolf RB.
Auburn vs. Arkansas State Edges:
Running back: Auburn
Wide Receiver: Even (until Auburn’s receivers show consistency)
Tight End/H-Back: Auburn
Offensive Line: Auburn
Defensive Line: Auburn
Linebackers: Arkansas State (unless you count the Star position as LB, then Auburn has the edge)
Interesting Facts: Auburn has played Arkansas State twice. The Tigers are 2-0, outscoring the Red Wolves 79-26…. Last season, when faced with a dangerous Sun Belt opponent, the Tigers were taken to OT by UL-Monroe before winning on a Cody Parkey field goal…. Both teams dominated the ground game in week one. Auburn had a 295-120 rushing edge against Washington State while Arkansas State had a 509-12 rushing edge against Arkansas Pine-Bluff…. Arkansas State has their 3rd coach in 3 years (Hugh Freeze 2011, Gus Malzahn 2012, Bryan Harsin 2013). Harsin was the offensive coordinator at Boise State from 2006-2010. The Broncos went 61-5 in that span with two undefeated seasons. Harsin spent the last two years as the co-offensive coordinator and QB coach at Texas. The Longhorns could never find consistency on offense due to the QB position, a dramatic decline in success from his time at Boise State.
Prediction: Arkansas State will present at challenge for Auburn. Their offense is explosive, their roster is more talented than many realize and they have a lot of momentum in the program. While their offense should see some success against Auburn’s defense, look for the defense to once again stand stronger in the second half. Nick Marshall will be given a little bit of slack on the leash, which will lead to more passing yards and more productive scrambles. When the night’s over, Auburn will have over 500 yards (including 200 passing yards from Marshall) thanks to a less vanilla scheme, and that will be enough for Auburn to pull away for a nice 2-0 start.
Auburn Tigers 41, Arkansas State Red Wolves 26
Other SEC predictions:
#11 Georgia 28, #6 South Carolina 24 (Gamecocks can win, but UGA’s at home with BCS contention on the line.)
#12 Florida 31, Miami 24 (This game is almost too close to call, but I’ll go with the stronger defense.)
#7 Texas A&M 62, Sam Houston State 24 (This needs no explanation, does it? A&M’s way too strong.)
#9 LSU 35, UAB 14 (LSU somewhat sleepwalks at home, but they’ll still beat UAB by a lot.)
Kentucky 34, Miami (OH) 17 (Wildcats should get their first win of the Mark Stoops era.)
Tennessee 38, Western Kentucky 28 (WKU will put up a fight, but UT’s talent will be too much.)
Arkansas 41, Samford 17 (ERMHAGERD, BERT)
Mississippi State 49, Alcorn State 28 (Why will MSU give up 28 points? It’s CFB. These things happen.)
Ole Miss 63, SE Missouri State 0 (Rebels get an easy win before a long stretch of tough games begins.)
Vanderbilt 42, Austin Peay 0 (The Govs will be shutout for the 2nd straight week. Ouch.)
Other notable games:
#17 Michigan 27, #14 Notre Dame 17 (Michigan has no home losses under Hoke. Won’t happen here, either.)
#2 Oregon 50, Virginia 31 (UVA shocks Oregon… in the first half. Ducks own the second half.)
#15 Texas 24, BYU 16 (Longhorns won’t look great, but they’ll get a nice win in Provo.)
#16 Oklahoma 59, West Virginia 7 (WVU struggled against William & Mary. Welcome to Norman, Dana.)
#19 Northwestern 36, Syracuse 23 (Northwestern looked impressive in beating Cal by two touchdowns.)
Upset Alert! Washington State 28, #25 USC 26 (It would be very Lane Kiffin for Lane Kiffin to Lane Kiffin this game.)