Gus Malzahn is now an Auburn Tiger, but there will be mixed emotions Saturday in taking on his former Arkansas State team. Malzahn left behind talent, certainly enough talent to win this game Saturday.
The Auburn Malzahn era kicked off last weekend against Washington State, and it doesn’t get much easier against Arkansas State, who should make this a great game.
Here’s what to watch for:
Stopping the run: Arkansas State had four guys finish with more than 100 yards last week. The scariest is David Oku, who rushed for 1,061 yards and 16 TDs in Malzahn’s offense last year. Everything in 2013 goes through Oku on offense. The former Tennessee Volunteer is very talented and can eat up yardage in a hurry. Washington State rushed for just 120 yards last week, but the Red Wolves play a different style of offense, featuring the running game. Montravius Adams and Auburn’s defensive line will look to wreak havoc and make Oku’s life miserable.
Three-headed monster: Say what you want about Nick Marshall and the passing game, but Auburn has one of the best running games in the SEC. The trio of Corey Grant, Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne was a force last week. They combined for 271 yards and two touchdowns. When you think Malzahan’s offense, you tend to think about the quarterback and attacking the edge of the defense, but he’s committed to running the ball. Grant broke the 75-yard TD last week and finally looks like he’ll make a big contribution after a hyped prep career.
Managing Marshall: Everyone points to Marshall’s struggles in the passing game, but I point to the zero in the turnover column. Marshall had 20 INTs last year in JUCO, and you can see Malzahn’s hand in limiting Marshall’s attempts and managing him on offense. Even if Marshall has a big game, who will be his go-to receiver? They have questions in the passing game, and Arkansas State presents another test before SEC play next week against Mississippi State. Marshall’s lack of production in the passing game isn’t concerning yet.