Arkansas State (1-0) at Auburn (1-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 7, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) -- Auburn, Alabama. Television: FSN, ESPN3.com. Home Record: ASU 1-0, Auburn 1-0. Away Record: ASU 0-0, Auburn 0-0. Neutral Record: ASU 0-0, Auburn 0-0. Conference Record: ASU 0-0, Auburn 0-0. Series Record: Auburn leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: In just his second game as the head coach of Auburn, Gus Malzahn will face his former team on Saturday night, as the Tigers play host to the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Arkansas State, which has claimed each of the past two Sun Belt Conference championships (the most recent under Malzahn), wasted no time making a statement early in the 2013 campaign, as it blew out Arkansas-Pine Bluff in its home opener, 62-11. It was the first season-opening win for the Red Wolves since 2009, having lost to Oregon, Illinois and Auburn to start the previous three seasons. The squad also extended its winning streak to nine games, which is the second-longest in the nation presently.
Auburn won just three games during the 2012 season, which resulted in the firing of Gene Chizik and the hiring of former offensive coordinator Malzahn, who won the first game with his new team at home versus Washington State last week, 31-24. The Tigers are now 194-1 all-time when scoring 30 points or more against non-SEC opponents.
The Tigers defeated Arkansas State in both previous matchups, with each victory coming by at least 26 points.
Even with the offseason departure of Ryan Aplin, who holds most of the program's passing records, Arkansas State still managed a historic offensive performance in its opener, racking up 672 total yards, the second-most in school history.
The rushing attack was unstoppable, accounting for 509 yards and eight touchdowns, with David Oku (124 yards, two TDs), Sirgregory Thornton (112 yards, two TDs), Michael Gordon (102 yards, TD) and Fredi Knighten (101 yards, two TDs) all crossing the century mark. The Red Wolves tied an FBS record with four players logging 100-yard rushing efforts.
Knighten and Gordon struck with a handful of huge runs, with the pair piling up their yardage totals on just seven combined carries.
Because of the effectiveness of the ground game, Adam Kennedy wasn't asked to do much in his debut as the starting quarterback, although he still impressed by completing 9-of-12 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. Julian Jones was on the receiving end of the scoring strike and finished with two receptions for 45 yards.
The Red Wolves defense stifled a UAPB squad that is expected to compete for a Southwestern Athletic Conference title at the FCS level, allowing a meager 173 total yards.
The unit made 15 stops behind the line of scrimmage, with Ryan Carrethers leading the way with eight tackles, two TFL and 1.5 sacks. Qushaun Lee was also impressive with seven tackles, two TFL and a forced fumble, while Darius Dunaway, John Gandy and Quanterio Heath all recorded sacks.
Auburn, one of the worst offensive teams in the SEC a year ago, had a modest start to the season with just under 400 total yards and a disappointing third- down conversion rate (4-of-13), but it set the tone with a great rushing output (297 yards).
Corey Grant enjoyed a career night on the ground with 146 yards on just nine carries, highlighted by a 75-yard touchdown jaunt in the second quarter. Tre Mason was also solid with 15 carries for 73 yards, and he added a 100-yard kickoff return for a score.
The high rushing total meant that Nick Marshall, who won the quarterback competition in camp, fell to the background, completing 10-of-19 passes for just 99 yards, although he managed the game well and went without a turnover.
Sammie Coates was the leading receiver in the contest with three receptions for 44 yards.
Defensively, the Tigers struggled for most of the game, allowing 464 yards of total offense, but they stepped up when needed most by intercepting Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday three times.
Robenson Therezie picked off two passes and added seven tackles for good measure. Joshua Holsey also had an interception, while Montravius Adams and Ben Bradley each recorded a sack.
The intrigue for this matchup is high with Malzahn facing his old squad so soon after his departure, and that story line is sure to fire up the Red Wolves coming in to Auburn. Arkansas State looks every bit the part of Sun Belt Conference contender, but even though the Tigers are expected to be a non-factor in the SEC this year, they still boast enough talent to compete, as they showed in the opener. It should be close, but expect Auburn to prevail in front of the home crowd.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Auburn 31, Arkansas State 30
09/04 10:40:03 ET