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.”