Auburn vs. Arkansas State: Q-and-A preview with Troy Schulte of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What does someone who covers the Red Wolves on a daily basis think of the matchup?

Auburn and Arkansas State play Saturday night, and while we know a little bit about the Tigers, we aren't that familiar with the Red Wolves. With that in mind, we had an email chat with Troy Schulte, who covers ASU for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

College and Magnolia: Looking at Arkansas State's box score from last week, the Red Wolves' offense (62 points, 672 yards, 509 rushing yards) appears to be a real threat. What kind of attack does ASU use to move the ball? Is this strictly a run-first team, or will we see more pass against Auburn?

Troy Schulte: I don't think much can be taken from last week's win when trying to figure out what Bryan Harsin is going to do on offense. They gained all those yards against an FCS opponent that was without 12 players on its two-deep because of unexplained ineligibilities. Yes, I think ASU wants to run the ball first, but I doubt they'll do it as much, or as well, in any game this season. They've got the backs to run -- David Oku started his career at Tennessee and rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year -- but they feel good about their receivers and Adam Kennedy throwing the ball. Look for ASU to open it up a bit more Saturday, and do it at varying tempos. ASU doesn't huddle, but not a hurry-up, no-huddle like it was under Malzahn last year or like Auburn is now. Harsin has said since the start of camp they'll go fast when they want to go fast, and slow down when they feel they need to slow down.

CaM: How about the defense? I know John Thompson is quite versatile in his schemes, but what is the preferred base this season? What does a typical ASU defensive game plan look like?

TS: They're a 4-2-5 base, and they were pretty good without using too much pressure last year. Thompson has said they'll likely depend on their front four for a pass rush this year, too. That's mostly because of the youth in the secondary. Thompson likes that group but cornerback Rocky Hayes was playing offense last year and sophomore safety Chris Humes -- a Hoover, Ala., native who was offered by Auburn -- is in his first year as a starter. Thompson feels good about the pressure they can get from the front four. They had six sacks vs. UAPB last week, but again, not sure that says a whole lot just yet.

CaM: We know about David Oku, who is an SEC-quality running back. Name a couple of other playmakers on offense. And who are the playmakers on defense?

TS: Other than Oku, you have to mention receiver J.D. McKissic, who had 103 catches last season. They feel good about their running backs behind Oku, too. Michael Gordon had a 91-yard touchdown run last week and Sirgregory Thornton is a big-bodied back who has dealt with injuries but is healthy this year. On defense, it starts with tackle Ryan Carrethers and linebacker Qushaun Lee. Those two need to play well in the middle for the defense to work.

CaM: What matchups in this game will really work in Arkansas State's favor?

TS: I'm interested to see how ASU's receivers do against Auburn's secondary. ASU needs to be able to throw to stay in the game. Other than McKissic and Julian Jones, their receivers are largely untested, though. It'll be interesting to see if they can get open against Auburn's experienced defensive backs.

CaM: What are the Red Wolves' weaknesses against Auburn?

TS: ASU's defensive line against Auburn's offensive line will be big, too. Again, that group looked good on Saturday and they rotated in 10 different players, but what they see Saturday will be a different animal altogether.

CaM: The revenge factor is a pretty popular storyline going into this one? Just how much of a factor do you think it really is? How badly to ASU coaches, players and fans want to beat Gus Malzahn?

TS: From talking to them this week, I don't think the players or coaches are billing this as ASU vs. Gus. They've acknowledged the dynamic and admit it's something that will add a little emotion to the game, but I don't think they want to win the game to beat Gus. As for the fans, that's a different story. Some fans understood the economics of the move, but there's certainly a faction of fans who feel scorned by him leaving after just one season. This game was a hot topic all summer, with Harsin answering questions about it at almost every public speaking event he went to. So, I'd say it's a big deal to the fans.

CaM: How do you think Auburn-Arkansas State plays out? Care to offer a score prediction?

TS: I think ASU runs the ball well enough to keep it close in the fourth quarter. Final score: Auburn 34, ASU 24.

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