Spending one season coaching the Red Wolves before making the move back to Auburn as the head coach, Malzahn should have plenty of knowledge about his foe this week.
The same is true of the other side as well with several assistant coaches and the majority of the players very familiar with Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee, J.B. Grimes and company. First-year Arkansas State coach Bryan Harsin said because of that it just comes down to playing football and facing a physical SEC team.
"They've got a good football team," Harsin said. "They've got very good players on their side. That's more of what the challenge is, trying to go against the type of players that they have. Our players have watched the film and they know that the opponent they are going to play against is very good so we have a big challenge on top of that, along with the knowledge that he knows these players and they know he's been around them and so he understands them."
Harsin's first game was a rousing success as Arkansas State pounded Arkansas-Pine Bluff by the score of 62-11 and had four 100-yard rushers in the process led by former Tennessee standout David Oku. A veteran who ran for 1,061 yards and 16 touchdowns last season under Malzahn, Oku is part of a three-headed monster backfield for the Red Wolves and Harsin said all will be needed this weekend and beyond.
"I think he's got a pretty good head on his shoulders as far as his demeanor out there," Harsin said. "David is a guy that's got very good vision. I felt like in the game we wanted him to be a downhill back and start there first, and he did that in the game. He hit the holes, he got vertical and then when he got in the open field that's part of his deal to make guys miss, and he was able to do that."
Auburn will counter with a deep backfield of its own after a season opening win over PAC-12 foe Washington State. Starter Tre Mason ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries while his backup Cameron Artis-Payne added 52 yards on 10 carries. The story of the game offensively was junior Corey Grant, however, as he gained 146 yards and scored a touchdown on just nine carries.
With quarterback Nick Marshall struggling early in his first game with the Tigers, Auburn leaned heavily on the running game. They did take some shots down the field that just missed from being big plays, something Harsin said is a concern when you look at the offense they'll face this Saturday.
"I know he's got a lot of arsenal in his package as far as play calling and things like that," Harsin said. "It's still early in the year. In the first three or four games many teams are still developing and getting in things from camp that they worked on. We'll see some things in there that we haven't seen from this year. We'll do our best to prepare for that. That's going to be a challenge just trying to go out there and see what type of game plan they're going to have for us coming into the game."