David Oku could have been running for the Tigers.
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. Week two brings Arkansas State to Auburn, a team coached last season by Gus Malzhan. There’s little doubt that the defending Sun Belt Champions will be itching to show their former coach a thing or two! However, new up and coming head coach Brian Harsin will have quite a few holes to fill, as the Red Wolves return just 12 starters from last season.
Prior to traveling to Auburn, Arkansas State tunes up next fall with Arkansas Pine-Bluff at home. After playing at Auburn, it’s a short week for the wolves as they have a Thursday night home game against Troy. Then Arkanas State plays at Memphis, at Missouri, Idaho, Louisiana-Lafayette, at South Alabama, at Louisiana-Monroe, Texas State, Georgia State, and at Bowling Green.
On offense, the Red Wolves return 7 starters, but they’ll be playing in their third new offense in three years. New coach Bryan Harsin was the offensive coordinator at Boise State from 2006-2010, as well as co-offensive coordinator with the Texas Longhorns since then. Harsin favors a multiple, pro-style offense with a thick playbook. Typically, he’s looking for matchup vulnerabilities, and will use an array of formations and unbalanced lines to get them. It’s a steep learning curve for the players, though, as we witnessed at Florida last season, struggling to perform for Boise camp guru Brent Pease.
The Red Wolves were an offensive juggernaut last season, rolling up 466 yards per game, including 206 on the ground. It’s hard to see if any of that will translate to the new offense. 1000-yard rusher David Oku returns for his senior season, but record-setting quarterback Ryan Aplin graduated. Four offensive line starters do return, as well as top receivers J. D. McKissic and Carlos McCants. Our first look at Harsin’s influence on the offense was in last year’s GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile. Kent State held the Red Wolves to just 285 yards in that one, and 17 points. Their previous 7 games they had been averaging 41 points per game. This doesn’t bode well for the Red Wolf offense’s second game of the season against Ellis Johnson’s defense.
Defensively, the Red Wolves return only five starters, and that’s on a unit that gave up 24.4 points per game. One main cog of the defense that does return is senior tackle Ryan Carrethers, who was in on 68 stops last season and was an all-Sun Belt performer. Junior linebacker Qushaun Lee returns after posting 100 tackles in 2012. Two corners with starting experience return as well. A familiar name coaches the Arkansas State defense, John Thompson, who’s had plenty of SEC experience.
The 2012 Red Wolves were decent on special teams and pretty good covering kicks, but struggled punting the football. In 2013, they’ll have to break in a new punter, possibly redshirt freshman Max Coffin. He’s the only guy actually listed as a punter on the current roster. Senior kicker Brian Davis returns, after a 17 for 21 year kicking field goals. Sophomore kick-off specialist Luke Ferguson also is back. The Red Wolves worked on returns this spring, after a lackluster return game in 2012.
Unit Matchups, after the jump!