Auburn hosts Arkansas State on Saturday in what should be an interesting game after both teams' performances last week. The Red Wolves fell 31-10 at home to Toledo last Friday night, and the game was never close. The Rockets controlled the pace and racked up more than 370 yards through the air in the process. ASU didn't seem to have an answer for Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside.
The Tigers gave No. 2 Clemson all it wanted in primetime last Saturday but fell short 19-13 in the end, as a last-second Hail Mary attempt was batted to the ground. Even with the loss, Auburn had to have gained some confidence in knowing it could still play with the big boys. In a pivotal season for head coach Gus Malzahn, who coached the Red Wolves in 2012, the Tigers will look to build off that performance.
This matchup will feature two teams that are struggling to find a rhythm on offense. The Red Wolves only put up 266 yards in last week's loss, while Auburn gained only 262 against Clemson. Considering the teams combined to score only 23 points, it should be interesting to see if either is able to find more production this week.
Saturday's contest will be the fourth meeting all-time between the Tigers and Red Wolves. Auburn has won the previous three matchups – 27-0 in 2006, 52-26 in ‘10 and 38-9 in ‘13. Oddly enough, Auburn has ended up having a really good season every time it has played ASU. Maybe that's an omen.
Arkansas State at Auburn
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Auburn -20
Three Things to Watch
1. Auburn's Running Game
Coming into the season, it seemed like Auburn was at the point where it would have to find running backs off the street. After an NFL departure, a transfer and a dismissal, the Tigers were down to their No. 4 back, but Malzahn was pleased after watching Kerryon Johnson rush for nearly 100 yards against a stout Clemson defense. Johnson also averaged more than four yards per carry. The problem, however, is that Auburn only gained 87 yards on the ground as a team (due in part to quarterback sacks). Some of the Tigers' rushing woes can probably be attributed to that impressive Clemson defense, but they're going to need to be better in the ground game this week.
2. Arkansas State's Passing Attack
ASU had a real gem in quarterback Fredi Knighten, who threw for more than 5,000 yards in two years as the starter for the Red Wolves. He also was a key threat on the ground. But now Knighten – along with four contributing wide receivers – are gone. Chad Voytik will get the start on Saturday, but he didn't look great in week one, throwing for 124 yards with a 46 percent completion rate. Still, he was smart with the football and didn't throw any interceptions. The Red Wolves really need some guys to step up at receiver in order to have a chance against the Tigers. Blake Mack caught two balls for 87 yards last week, but Voytik needs more options.
3. Red Wolves' Defense vs. Auburn Quarterbacks
Against Clemson, Sean White went 10-for-21 through the air for 140 yards and one interception. In limited action, Jeremy Johnson was 4-of-6 for 38 yards with a pick while John Franklin III completed his only pass, albeit for negative yards (-3). The Tigers have to get better at the quarterback position, plain and simple. Malzahn has made it clear that White is the starter for now with Franklin backing him up, while Johnson’s status with the team is uncertain. The good news is that whoever is under center Saturday will be going up against the same ASU secondary that allowed Toledo's Woodside to torch the Red Wolves through the air. This game could be a great opportunity for White and Franklin to gain some confidence – and to show that they are capable of putting up big numbers.
Neither team has much of an offensive attack, but Auburn has a bright spot in the running game with Kerryon Johnson. Also, it will be much easier for the Tigers' quarterbacks to get going against Arkansas State's defense than it will be for the Red Wolves to mount offense against an SEC-caliber defense. The clear advantage is with Auburn in this game, but Arkansas State plays with a lot of pride and is coming off of a Sun Belt championship. It may be close for the first half, but War Eagle will pull away.