Last look: Auburn/Arkansas State capsule

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 7, 2013 

After a debut that saw him account for no touchdowns, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (14) looks to turn things around on Saturday versus Arkansas State.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Who: Arkansas State (1-0) at Auburn (1-0)

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

TV: FSN

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)

All-time series: Auburn leads 2-0

Quick game notes: Arkansas State enters Saturday on a nine-game winning streak, the second-longest in the country. The longest active streak belongs to Ohio State, which has won 13 in a row. ... The nine consecutive victories marks the third-longest streak in the Red Wolves' history, following a 16-game tear from 1969-71 and a 15-game undefeated run from 1974-76. ... With a 31-24 victory over Washington State last week, Gus Malzahn became the ninth Auburn head coach since World War II to win in the first game of his tenure on the Plains. The only Tigers coach to lose his first career game in the post-World War II era was Doug Barfield, whose Auburn squad was beat by Arizona 31-19 in 1976. (The Tigers went on to finish that season 4-7 overall.) ... Auburn looks to push its record versus Sun Belt Conference teams to 18-0. The Tigers have never lost to Arkansas State (2-0), Louisiana-Lafayette (4-0), Louisiana-Monroe (9-0) and Western Kentucky (2-0). All games took place at Jordan-Hare Stadium. ... Arkansas State became only the seventh team in FBS history to have four players (David Oku, Fredi Knighten, Michael Gordon and Sirgregory Thornton) rush for 100 or more yards in the same game, which it accomplished last week versus Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Red Wolves finished with 509 rushing yards overall, the fifth-best mark in school history and the second-most in the Sun Belt Conference's annals. ... Malzahn is far from being the first Auburn coach to square off against a school he formerly led. Tommy Tuberville went 7-3 against Ole Miss, Terry Bowden was 1-0 against Samford, Pat Dye went 2-0 versus East Carolina, Jack Meagher was winless against Rice (0-2) and Mike Harvey won his only meeting against Alabama in 1902, shutting out the Crimson Tide 23-0. ... At just 36 years old, Arkansas State head coach Bryan Harsin is the fourth-youngest man at the helm of a Division I program. The only coaches more youthful than Harsin are P.J. Fleck at Western Michigan (32 years old), followed by Toledo's Matt Campbell and Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury, who are both 33.

KEY MATCHUPS

Arkansas State backfield vs. Auburn front six

Auburn's defensive line and linebackers in Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme struggled mightily against Washington State last week. The Tigers' defensive line had just 10 tackles split amongst seven players, with little success getting any push up front and into the Cougars' backfield. The linebackers were an even bigger non-factor, as they tallied just five takedowns, with four of those coming from Kris Frost. They'll try to slow down Arkansas State's most explosive option in the backfield, Oku, who transferred from Tennessee and led the team in rushing last season with 1,061 yards and 16 touchdowns. But the Red Wolves also have faith in Knighten, Thornton and Gordon, which means they won't have a problem keeping each player fresh.

EDGE: Even. On last week's stats and sheer level of play alone, it would be easy to give an edge to Arkansas State here. However, it's likely the Red Wolves won't see any defense more athletic or physical than the one they'll face Saturday.

Nick Marshall vs. Arkansas State's secondary

Marshall's debut as Auburn's starting quarterback was a successful one, as the Tigers came out on top of Washington State 31-24 last week. His individual performance had some glaring holes, however. He didn't account for a touchdown, and finished with only 27 yards rushing on nine carries. His bigger issues were in the passing game, as he overthrew countless receivers and didn't even register triple-digits, coming up one yard short (99 yards; completed 10 of 19 attempts). Saturday will allow Marshall a chance to redeem himself. Arkansas State allowed its opponents to complete 64 percent (276-for-432) of their passes last season. The Red Wolves' secondary does have a pair of first-team all-conference performers in sophomore corner Rocky Hayes and junior safety Sterling Young. Otherwise, Arkansas State's defensive backs are a question mark. Starting corner Artez Brown has played in 25 games the last two years without snaring an interception; the same goes for sophomore rover/strong safety Chris Humes, who appeared in all 13 games last season, but notched neither a pick nor a pass breakup.

SLIGHT EDGE: Auburn. Marshall's passes last week weren't that far off-target — yes, they were overthrown, but it's not as if they weren't in the vicinity of his intended receiver. It is expected he tightened things up during practice this week, and it should show against the Red Wolves.

Malzahn vs. the Arkansas State players he coached last season

It's a topic that has been brought up repeatedly this week: How much of an advantage or disadvantage is it for each team to have so much familiarity with the other? Malzahn knows the strengths and weaknesses of nearly every member of Arkansas State aside from its true freshmen. On the other hand, the Red Wolves spent a year learning how to run Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle scheme. Both head coaches have downplayed that this tidbit will play much of a factor in the game, saying one-on-one battles on the field take precedence. We'll see whether that holds true Saturday.

EDGE: Auburn. Possibly knowing what Auburn's offense might do is one thing; being able to stop it is another. The Red Wolves are a good team with some decent athletes. However, that's still far short of the SEC-caliber players up and down the Tigers' roster.

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