SEC: Washington State Cougars

Video: Auburn S Joshua Holsey

September, 1, 2013

Greg Ostendorf talks to Auburn safety Joshua Holsey about the Tigers' 31-24 win over Washington State in the season opener.

Instant analysis: Auburn 31, WSU 24

September, 1, 2013

AUBURN, Ala. -- It wasn't easy, but Auburn used big plays in the first half and key stops in the second half to earn a victory over Washington State in Gus Malzahn's debut as head coach Saturday.

It was over when: Washington State had a chance in the final minutes to tie the game, but on fourth-and-5 from the Auburn 25, Connor Halliday's pass fell incomplete. The Tigers got the ball back, picked up a first down and put the game away.

Game ball goes to: In an unexpected lineup change, Robenson Therezie filled in at the star position for Justin Garrett. He turned out to be the star of the game, literally. Therezie pulled down two interceptions, including one late that killed a Washington State drive.

Stat of the game: Last year, Auburn finished the season with two interceptions. The Tigers matched that number in the first quarter alone. Add the late pick by Therezie, and they finished with three interceptions in the game.

Unsung hero: Running back Corey Grant wasn't even listed on the depth chart before Saturday's game. That likely will change. The former Alabama transfer ran wild against Washington State, finishing with 146 yards on nine carries and a 75-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

What it means for Auburn: It might not have been as convincing as the fans would've liked, but a win is a win, and Auburn already is off to a better start than last year. There were a lot of positives to take away, but there also were a lot of needs to address going forward. Either way, the Tigers are 1-0 under Gus Malzahn.

What it means for Washington State: Even though the Cougars have to fly back home with a loss, they looked much improved from a year ago and battled right down to the end. Halliday finished 35 of 63 for 344 yards and a touchdown, and the offense as a whole racked up 464 yards against Auburn.
Malzahn/LeachUSA TODAY SportsFirst-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and second-year Washington State coach Mike Leach are two of the most renowned offensive innovators out of the spread.
AUBURN, Ala. -- It’s no surprise that many experts are predicting a shootout between Auburn and Washington State on Saturday. The game features Gus Malzahn and Mike Leach, two of the more innovative offensive minds in college football.

“It’s exciting,” Auburn wide receiver Quan Bray said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to. Hopefully, it won’t be a shootout. On our part it will be a shootout. We’re trying to put up 70.”

Bray’s prediction of 70 points might be a bit of a stretch, but the game should feature plenty of points scored between Auburn’s Malzahn and Washington State’s Leach.

At first glance, the two teams might look very similar on offense. They both like to spread it out, and they both want to get it in the hands of their playmakers. However, each team runs a very different style out of their spread formation.

“We’re a run the football to open up the pass with play-action, and I know they’re a pass to open up the run,” Malzahn said. “But they’ve been very successful doing what they do.”

As for Auburn?

“A lot of misdirection,” Leach said. “They try to spread the field. They like a dual-threat quarterback who can run a little bit for them. A lot of screens, a lot of fake screens. We spread it out to throw it, they spread it out to run it, but both of us can do either one.”

The two coaches have never actually met. The closest thing Malzahn has ever seen to a Mike Leach-run offense came when he was co-offensive coordinator at Tulsa and the Golden Hurricane faced a pass-happy Houston squad.

The majority of Auburn’s team has not faced an offense like Washington State either. It’s quite a bit different than the typical SEC offense.

“I don't really feel like we have faced anybody who is pass-first,” cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. “In the SEC, every week you have a team that has an outstanding running back. It's a great task at hand that we have, and we're ready for it. We're definitely going to play a lot more man, get in their face and interrupt their routes.”

A year ago, Washington State finished just 3-9 in Leach’s debut with the Cougars but ranked No. 9 in the country with 330 passing yards per game. In all, the WSU quarterbacks threw for close to 4,000 yards and 23 touchdowns.

“We're playing an opponent that I feel like is going to be much improved,” Malzahn said. “They finished the year beating their rival Washington, which is a very big win. They've got the majority of their guys offensively and defensively back. That is definitely a concern.

“And then the fact it's the second year in their system. They've got a proven head coach who's won just about everywhere he's been, so we're expecting those guys to be much improved and a very good opponent for us in the first game.”

The expectations are high for Auburn’s offense as well, but the Tigers are having to break in a brand new starting quarterback. Junior college transfer Nick Marshall put up gaudy numbers last season at Garden City Community College, but he’s never directed an SEC offense.

Malzahn plans to play it safe with his new quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he wants to slow down the tempo.

“We never plan on starting out slowing things down because pace is one of our advantages,” he said. “We're always going to do what gives our team the best chance of winning.”

So will Saturday’s clash between high-powered offenses turn into a shootout inside Jordan-Hare Stadium? Leach isn’t so sure.

“It's tough to say,” the Washington State coach said. “First games are always funny that way. First games seldom unfold the way you expect. Both have quality defensive coaches on each team, so I think they'll be well-coached and we'll just have to see what happens.”



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