Auburn Tigers: Arkansas State Red Wolves

SEC lunchtime links

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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There’s no time for trick-or-treating in the SEC as teams have just two days left to prepare for Saturday’s slate of games. However, feel free to take a look around the league in Thursday’s Halloween edition of the lunch links.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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There was plenty of recruiting news in the Southeastern Conference over the weekend. Tennessee hosted several visitors for its exciting game against Georgia, and there were some impressive high school performances as well. Here is the latest news around the SEC.

Biggest commitment: Alabama beat out rival Auburn for Ronnie Clark, the No. 12 athlete and No. 96 overall prospect in the Class of 2014. The Tide continue to have a stronghold on the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the country. Alabama now has 21 verbal commitments, including 15 who are ranked in the ESPN 300.

SEC bowl projections: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
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Two weeks in, and it's time to check out where we think SEC teams are heading during the postseason.

VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 6: Alabama
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: LSU
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia
AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3: Texas A&M
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: Florida
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Ole Miss
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Auburn
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Vanderbilt
BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4: Arkansas
AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Dec. 31: Missouri
AUBURN, Ala. -- It will be a strange feeling for Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn when he looks across the field Saturday and sees his former team. Malzahn coached at Arkansas State last year, and this weekend, the Red Wolves will visit the Plains for a nonconference showdown with the Tigers.

In his one year at Arkansas State, his first as a college head coach, Malzahn finished 9-3 and started their current nine-game winning streak. But when the ball kicks off Saturday, the nostalgia will wear off and the Auburn coach will want nothing more than to put an end to the streak.

“Personally, I care greatly for a lot of their players,” Malzahn said. “Their administration was great to me while I was there. It was a very good experience. I am very grateful for the opportunity they gave me.

“Professionally, you have got to flip the switch once the game starts, and you have to do everything in your power to help your team win. We will definitely do that.”

It won’t be an easy task. Arkansas State hired another bright, young offensive mind in Bryan Harsin, and the expectations are once again high for the Red Wolves. The game plan has likely changed, but the personnel remains very much the same.

Malzahn
Malzahn
“I was very impressed with Bryan,” Malzahn said. “We shared ideas. He’s one of the best in the business, one of the better offensive minds in all of college football.

“It’s going to be a different offensive system. You know about personnel and you know quite a bit about the personnel, but the scheme is going to be different. You don’t know what to expect. They have a lot of good football players. That’s the thing I know most about it.”

Storylines

What to expect from Nick Marshall, part two?

The first game was well documented. Marshall played conservatively, didn’t turn the ball over, but turned in a subpar performance overall. Will he take a step forward in his second game? Malzahn hopes so. The Auburn head coach plans to open up the playbook more and more each game for Marshall, and he wants to try and pick up the pace on offense. However, he still wants to keep his quarterback out of potentially precarious situations. With the SEC schedule beginning next week, this would be the ideal time for Marshall to have a breakout game.

Will Auburn’s linebackers step up to the challenge?

In the season opener against Washington State, the secondary was tested. Auburn had just one linebacker on the field for the majority of the game. That won’t be the case Saturday. Starting Will linebacker Cassanova McKinzy will see a lot more snaps as they try to defend Arkansas State’s potent rushing attack. The Red Wolves rushed for over 500 yards in the season opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Auburn's middle linebacker combination of Jake Holland and Kris Frost struggled at times in the first game, but they will have to play better on Saturday.

Who will be the playmaker for the Tigers?

Last week, it was Corey Grant on offense and Robenson Therezie on defense. Both players came up huge for Auburn in the Week 1 victory. Who will it be this week? There are plenty of candidates, including any one of the three-headed monster in AU’s backfield or maybe one of the freshman defensive linemen, but the Tigers need somebody to emerge this weekend. The coaches are also hopeful to find a go-to wide receiver for Marshall to throw the ball to.

Players to Watch

Auburn player to watch: DT Montravius Adams

Stopping the run will start up the middle, and it will be a team effort among Adams, Angelo Blackson, Gabe Wright and Ben Bradley. However, it was Adams who provided the spark last week. He energizes both the crowd and his teammates.

Arkansas State player to watch: RB David Oku

Oku started his career in the SEC with Tennessee. He transferred to Arkansas State after his freshman year, and this is his chance to prove he can still play well against teams in the nation’s top conference. The Red Wolves had four different players rush for more than 100 yards last week, but Oku is the most talented of the group.

Quotable

“They've got a lot of weapons back on offense, and I know they've got some really good players back on defense. It's going to take a much better effort from us this week. We're going to have to see that Week 1-to-Week 2 improvement if we want to win the game.” -- Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, on Arkansas State

Planning for success: Auburn Tigers

September, 5, 2013
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AUBURN, Ala. -- When Arkansas State comes to Auburn on Saturday, it will bring a nine-game winning streak, second longest in college football. The Red Wolves will bring an offense that’s very similar to what Auburn runs, but it’s the complete opposite of what the Tigers faced last week with Washington State.

Arkansas State opened the season with a 62-11 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Although it was an inferior opponent, the Red Wolves still rushed for over 500 yards in the game and had four different players reach the 100-yard mark.

“Five-hundred yards rushing is a lot against anybody,” Auburn defensive end LaDarius Owens said. “I don’t care who they played. That’s a big statement, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to come in here and try to establish the run.

“[Washington State] threw it all day, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to run it all day. They ran the ball like 55 times, so we’re going to see a lot of that.”

So while it was the Auburn secondary that was tested in Week 1, it will be the front seven, in particular the defensive line, that will need to step up this week.

Working to Auburn’s advantage will be the fact that head coach Gus Malzahn was at Arkansas State last season. He knows the opponent’s personnel, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is using that to his advantage. Malzahn has been in the film room all week with the defense.

“We have seven coaches here who coached those guys last year, so they’re very familiar with the personnel and that helps,” Johnson said.

The defense is hopeful that both defensive Dee Ford and linebacker Justin Garrett will return this week after missing the opener due to injury. Despite Robenson Therezie’s performance at the Star in Week 1, Garrett might play more, if healthy, against Arkansas State. He’s the better of the two in run support.

On offense, it starts with quarterback Nick Marshall. In his first start for Auburn, he played conservatively, finishing 10 of 19 for 99 yards through the air. The coaches are hopeful Marshall can take the next step on Saturday.

“We are learning Nick as we go, too,” Malzahn said. “We’re learning what he’s comfortable with, what he’s not comfortable with, how he reacts to certain situations. Each game, our comfort zone will get better and better.”

If the Tigers want to beat Arkansas State and end the winning streak, Marshall and the entire offense are going to have to play better. Arkansas State isn't a typical Sun Belt opponent, and Malzahn knows that.

“They are one of the hottest teams in college football,” he said. “They know how to win, and they expect to win.”

SEC predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
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Well, it's that time again. With the start of the college football season, which literally kicks off in a few hours, we are back to our weekly SEC predictions.

I mean, it's no big deal or anything, but I completely dominated the picks last year. The ATL Kid showed no mercy. Chris just didn't have the focus that you'd expect from a veteran. He started covering this league when I still had training wheels on my bike and chocolate stains on my shirts. (OK, those are still there.)

I spent the entire offseason gloating over how my beautiful 107-15 (.877) record looked down at Chris' 100-22 (.820) record and scoffed. But I also did some homework. I studied film. I might have had the championship belt around my waist, but today is a new day -- a new season.

Last year's picks mean nothing (except in the realm of blogger pride), so I have to start over. I'll starting lifting and running more in the mornings in order to get my mind and body right for the days ahead.

One championship was nice, but I'm looking for more rings and more bragging rights, and that all starts with a strong Week 1.

Let's get onto the picks:

THURSDAY

NORTH CAROLINA AT SOUTH CAROLINA

Chris Low: It’s the Battle of the Carolinas, or as the Head Ball Coach would say, South Carolina vs. “Dabo’s Carolina.” Not sure Dabo’s Carolina will be able to block Mr. Clowney. Then again, can anybody? ... South Carolina 30, North Carolina 17

Edward Aschoff: This could be the team that gets Steve Spurrier back to the SEC championship game. Jadeveon Clowney and that talented defensive line will make things miserable for UNC's offense all night. ... South Carolina 31, North Carolina 17

OLE MISS AT VANDERBILT

Chris Low: There’s no getting around the rape case and how it will impact the Commodores, especially with junior receiver Chris Boyd being suspended. The Rebels are for real and will finally figure out a way to beat the Commodores after losing five of the last six in this series. ... Ole Miss 24, Vanderbilt 20

Edward Aschoff: Both of these teams are on the rise in the SEC and have higher expectations than usual entering the season. While the Rebels have struggled recently with the Commodores, there's more pressure on Vandy, and Ole Miss will claim its redemption. ... Ole Miss 27, Vanderbilt 24

SATURDAY

WESTERN KENTUCKY VS KENTUCKY (in Nashville, Tenn.)

Chris Low: OK, no jokes about Bobby Petrino riding his motorcycle to the game. He gets his first of two straight chances to take down SEC teams, but the Wildcats will stand their ground in Mark Stoops’ debut. ... Kentucky 28, Western Kentucky 21

Edward Aschoff: Mark Stoops doesn't get a cupcake for his first game as Kentucky's new coach. I think it actually benefits him because he'll have a better idea of what he really has. And what he'll have is an opening-day winner. ... Kentucky 24, Western Kentucky 20

LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE AT ARKANSAS

Chris Low: Louisiana-Monroe sent the Hogs reeling last season. Now, it’s Louisiana (the Ragin’ Cajuns) who’d like to get a little slice of Pig Sooie. Arkansas is too strong up front defensively to stumble in this one. ... Arkansas 27, Louisiana 17

Edward Aschoff: Bret Bielema and his Hogs are dealing with a lot of injuries, but he'll still have more talent on the field Saturday. We won't know a ton about this team, but starting off 1-0 ain't bad. ... Arkansas 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 17

AUSTIN PEAY AT TENNESSEE

Chris Low: There won’t be many breathers for Butch Jones in his first season at Tennessee, but the only drama in this one will be whether or not the Pride of the Southland Band has enough stamina to still be playing “Rocky Top” in the fourth quarter. ... Tennessee 45, Austin Peay 7

Edward Aschoff: Another new coach makes his debut with a team shrouded in mystery. Jones has a lot of inexperience to work with on offense and it'll be interesting to see how that up-tempo offense looks. ... Tennessee 31, Austin Peay 14

MURRAY STATE AT MISSOURI

Chris Low: It sounds like Henry Josey is healthy again, and all those SEC fans who didn’t get a chance to see him last season while he was sidelined are in for a treat. It won’t be a lot of fun for Murray State trying to tackle him. ... Missouri 38, Murray State 14

Edward Aschoff: The Tigers are healthier and carrying a big chip on their shoulders this season. A more complete Missouri team should take the field this weekend. ... Missouri 41, Murray State 13

WASHINGTON STATE at AUBURN

Chris Low: We know that Mike Leach thinks the bottom half of the Pac-12 is better than the bottom half of the SEC. Here’s his chance to prove it, although the Tigers should be greatly improved this season. ... Auburn 34, Washington State 21

Edward Aschoff: The Tigers have no choice but to get better with Gus Malzahn back on the Plains and Ellis Johnson taking over the defense. You should see lots of points in Malzahn's debut as the head coach. ... Auburn 38, Washington State 20

TOLEDO AT FLORIDA

Chris Low: The latest blow to the Gators was offensive tackle Chaz Green going down for the season, joining already injured running back Matt Jones and guard Jon Halapio. But when you don’t give up any touchdowns, it’s hard to lose. ... Florida 24, Toledo 6

Edward Aschoff: The Gators enter with a banged-up offense that already had a lot of questions. Toledo is far from a pushover, but Florida has the muscle to get by a tricky opening opponent. ... Florida 27, Toledo 10

RICE AT TEXAS A&M

Chris Low: By order of Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman, I will not make any comments concerning a certain Aggies’ quarterback. What I will say is that the Aggies will roll despite No. 2 being on the bench for a half. ... Texas A&M 48, Rice 10

Edward Aschoff: Johnny Football might be sitting out a half, but it wouldn't matter if he were sitting out the entire game. It's finally time for A&M to get back on the playing field. ... Texas A&M 48, Rice 17

MISSISSIPPI STATE VS OKLAHOMA STATE (Houston, Texas)

Chris Low: The Bulldogs want to bring more pressure on defense this season. They’re going to need to in this one, but they will have a hard time scoring with the Cowboys. ... Oklahoma State 37, Mississippi State 24

Edward Aschoff: A lot of questions remain for the Bulldogs, and it won't be easy for this defense to slow down Oklahoma State's high-powered passing game. ... Oklahoma State 34, Mississippi State 21

LSU VS TCU (in Arlington, Texas)

Chris Low: Les Miles isn’t saying whether Jeremy Hill will play in the opener. He’s “withholding” that information. Something else that will be withheld is TCU touchdowns. This LSU defense might be young, but it’s not lacking talent. ... LSU 28, TCU 16

Edward Aschoff: The Tigers might be the must undervalued team in the SEC. Miles always has his teams prepared for these out-of-conference games, and you'll see a more explosive offense that's fast and athletic and will overpower the Horned Frogs. ... LSU 31, TCU 17

ALABAMA VS VIRGINIA TECH (in Atlanta)

Chris Low: This is not your father’s Virginia Tech team. The Hokies simply don’t have enough firepower to keep it close against the two-time defending national champions. ... Alabama 35, Virginia Tech 10

Edward Aschoff: Alabama likes these big openers. The process is strong with Crimson Tide players and Virginia Tech is hurting. Alabama comes in more talented, and the Hokies just don't have the horses to keep up in Atlanta. ... Alabama 38, Virginia Tech 13

GEORGIA AT CLEMSON

Chris Low: It’s the most compelling opener of the season and should also be the most entertaining. If you like points, sit back and enjoy. The Dawgs will hold up a little better in the secondary and sneak out with a win. ... Georgia 35, Clemson 31

Edward Aschoff: This is the main event. Both teams have high-octane offenses and both have defenses littered with questions. Georgia has a lot of talent on defense, but it's young. This game is going to come down to which defense makes a play late -- and home-field advantage. ... Clemson 34, Georgia 31
Gus MalzahnJohn David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsGus Malzahn has risen from the high school ranks to SEC head coach in just eight years.
AUBURN, Ala. -- After a year away, Gus Malzahn is back at Auburn. The role has changed, but the goal remains the same.

Last year, Malzahn went 9-3 as the head coach at Arkansas State, his first head coaching gig since Springdale (Ark.) High School in 2005. While the wins kept piling up for Malzahn and the Red Wolves, the opposite proved to be true for the school where he had the most success as an assistant.

Auburn finished 3-9 in 2012 and failed to win a conference game for the first time since 1980. The Tigers, just two years removed from a national championship, fired coach Gene Chizik after the season and turned to Malzahn. The former Auburn offensive coordinator was hired back to The Plains last December.

“It’s a new day, and my goal is to get Auburn back to a championship level,” Malzahn said at his introductory news conference. “The expectation at Auburn is to win championships.”

The first order of business was to build a staff. He brought over Rhett Lashlee, his right-hand man since Springdale, to be the offensive coordinator. On defense, he hired renowned coordinator Ellis Johnson.

“I feel very fortunate to have a guy like Rhett Lashlee that I know a lot about; he knows a lot about me and I've got a lot of confidence in him,” Malzahn said. “And, of course, Ellis Johnson is one of the better defensive coordinators in all of college football. That helps me do my job as head coach.”

From there, Malzahn poached some more talented assistant coaches from programs such as Arkansas, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia. The group was headlined by former Auburn players Dameyune Craig and Rodney Garner, two assistants with reputations as top recruiters.

When Malzahn was the offensive coordinator at Auburn, he helped put together back-to-back top-five recruiting classes and won the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the nation in 2010. As head coach, he already has 14 commitments for the 2014 class, including one from ESPN 300 running back Racean Thomas, the state’s No. 2 prospect.

There is a buzz around the Auburn program again. Credit Malzahn, the coaching staff and the momentum on the recruiting trail. Fans are excited and anxious for the season to kick off.

“We're just trying to get our pride back, get our edge back,” Malzahn said. “Auburn's a great place. At the end of last season, it was very low, and we're just on our way to build this thing back up. We think the future's bright. We've got some really talented young kids and when they grow up, it's going to be a lot of fun.”

Malzahn's journey from high school coach to SEC head coach in less than a decade seemed unlikely, but he never doubted it was possible. He’s known for his innovative mind when it comes to running an offense, but his former boss will tell you that it’s his drive that got him to where he is today.

“I had never met him before, but I knew who he was,” said Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir after meeting with Malzahn. “You could tell he was a very driven guy.”

Mohajir wasn’t the one who hired Malzahn, but he took over as AD shortly after Malzahn coached his first game at Arkansas State. He arrived just in time to see the Red Wolves run off seven consecutive victories to finish the regular season.

“They just kept getting better each week,” Mohajir said. “We played Western Kentucky, stubbed our toe and that was the last time. We never lost a game after that.

“I think they had some pretty good players here, outstanding senior leadership, but [Malzahn] brought some freshmen in that I think were very talented. He wasn't here long enough to really leave a legacy, but I'd say he was here long enough to make an impact.”

Mohajir knew that Malzahn's stay in Jonesboro wasn't likely to be a long one. When he first sat down with Malzahn, he understood that Arkansas State was just a stepping stone for the aspiring coach, who eventually wanted to take the reins at a major program, preferably in the SEC.

“I was tracking it pretty good,” Mohajir said. “After we beat Middle Tennessee, I got a call from [Auburn director of athletics] Jay Jacobs. He was asking for permission to talk to my coach. He was a very good guy, and I appreciated him doing that. I knew that if it came down and the selection committee was going to pick him, that he was probably going to be leaving. There was no question in my mind.”

Malzahn left for Auburn, where he says he and his family spent three of the best years of their life, and Arkansas State went and found another young, aspiring coach, former Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.

“I'm really happy with our guy,” Mohajir said. “I think he's a good fit, so it worked out well for him and I think it worked out well for us.”

On his first day, Malzahn said he wanted to get Auburn back to a championship level. But he also understands that it will take time.

The difficult decisions of a head coach are already on his plate. When senior safety Demetruce McNeal was arrested earlier this month for possession of marijuana, Malzahn dismissed him from the team. A difficult decision? Yes, but one that had to set the tone.

The first game test is Saturday against Washington State.

“I'm very appreciative,” he said. “I feel very blessed to be doing what I'm doing at a great place like Auburn. It probably crosses my mind how blessed I am once a day, maybe more.”

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SEC SCOREBOARD

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