Malzahn, No. 8 Auburn rushing into DWR Razorback Stadium
|Final game in Fayetteville for|
DE Chris Smith, and a
small senior class
But, suprirsingly, upstart Auburn adds another Top Ten team to the woes besetting Coach Bret Bielema's beleaguered Razorbacks.
The Tigers of first-year Coach Gus Malzahn arrive 7-1, 3-1 in the SEC West. They rank eighth by the AP going into Saturday's 5 p.m. ESPN2 televised game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
It marks Arkansas' final Fayetteville fling for 2013 with two road games sandwiching a Little Rock home game thereafter.
The Razorbacks (3-5, 0-4) wallow in a five-game losing streak. including four straight in the SEC to Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. They lost the last two 52-7 and 52-0.
Last year's Hogs struggled 4-8, 2-6 under interim Coach John L. Smith but beat former Auburn coach Gene Chizik's Tigers 24-7 in Auburn, Ala. Just two years removed from winning a national championship, Chizik was removed after Auburn floundered to 3-9 overall/ 0-8 in the SEC.
Malzahn, Auburn's offensive coordinator for Chizik from 2009 through 2011 before head coaching Arkansas State last year, knew Auburn needed a better quarterback than the ones he left there in 2012. He certainly went out and got one. Malzahn recruited junior college transfer Nick Marshall, a 2011 Georgia cornerback but a 2012 Garden City (Kan.) Junior College QB. The new coach and new QB immediately transformed the Tigers.
The same Auburn offensive line that Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash saw overwhelmed on film by Arkansas' suspect defense last year now blocks for the SEC's leading rushing offense.
"When you see Auburn's offensive line compared to last year, it's not even close," Ash said. "It's not the same team."
Malzahn's Spread offense, known primarily for its passing when the Fort Smith native coached Shiloh Christian and Springdale to high school championships, runs its way to fame.
Marshall, averaging 5.7 per carry, triggers the read option while running backs Tre Mason (753 yards and nine TDs), Cameron Artis-Payne, (510 yards) and Corey Grant (451 yards) average 5.8, 7.1 and 10.0 per carry.
All that augmented by Marshall's timely play-action passes led Auburn to SEC upsets over Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Marshall's TD pass with 10 seconds left beat Mississippi State in their SEC opener.
"They can attack you downhill with power and counters and things and downhill zones," Ash said. "Then they can attack the perimeter with outside plays. They have got speed to get to the edge and get around you even if you have got leverage."
Marshall does come off a shoulder injury from Auburn's 45-10 non-conference rout of Florida Atlantic last week, but with Malzahn acknowledging Marshall has practiced this week, Ash said "we absolutely expect him to play."
Auburn's defense gets less publicity than its offense. However, veteran SEC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who worked at Alabama, Mississippi State, South Carolina and a couple of weeks with Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, has fashioned a good defense by inheriting from some highly rated recruiting classes.
Only the 45-41 victory over Texas A&M has been an offensive shootout, and A&M Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel moves the ball on everybody.
"You don't get the rankings they have and win the games they have playing poor defense," Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "Ellis Johnson does a wonderful job coaching defense. They're flying around and making plays."
By the 52-7 and 52-0 losses its last two games, Arkansas defensively has not been making plays, and its offense hasn't scored since the game-opening TD drive against South Carolina.
Two full weeks since last playing should help, particularly for quarterback Brandon Allen's shoulder, first severely injured Sept. 14 and pounded upon in every game he has played since.
Bielema appeals to his inherited team to play for its seniors, not a deep senior class but with some stellar ones like preseason All-SEC center Travis Swanson and preseason All-SEC defensive end Chris Smith, and to play for pride and the underclassmen laying next year's foundation.
"These four remaining games are going to obviously decide if we are going to have a chance to play in the postseason," Bielema said. "But more importantly as coaches what we have and what we need to recruit for the future."