Coug D will face hurried Auburn offense

WASHINGTON STATE HAS experimented some on offense with the high end of the up-tempo scale under Mike Leach. But not to the degree that Auburn, their season opening opponent, did this spring.

Gus Malzahn's offense is characterized by a straight-ahead, rushing attack that uses misdirection and where the QB is a threat to run often. And they play ultra-fast.

Auburn spent much of the spring getting used to the new ultra-fast pace on offense, with mixed results.

And although they want to run, run, run, Auburn will need some legitimate outside receiving threats to make the offense effective and keep defenses from selling out to stop the ground game.

Who will be throwing to those receivers remains in question.

Neither quarterback was able to claim the job this spring, but Jonathan Wallace, a 6-2, 209-pound sophomore, looks to have a slight edge over Kiehl Frazier. Junior college transfer Nick Marshall and touted freshman Jeremy Johnson, Alabama's Mr. Football, will have the chance to earn the starting job in fall camp.

Competition is healthy, and every college coach wants it at every position. But there is also a point where a starter hasn't emerged because the group is mediocre. Is that the case at Auburn? No one can say, but moving to a new offense is likely to mean growing pains for Auburn this season.

Auburn will benefit by moving faster than opposing defenses will like, but that also comes with a cost. It takes a while for offenses to iron out all the kinks when there's a big change like the one Malzahn is employing.

There will be missed assignments, misreads and mistakes made. And Washington State's defense will have their opportunities to take full advantage of those miscues.

Four of five offensive linemen return, with the biggest question mark at left guard, where junior college transfer Devonte Danzey and Alex Kozan pretty much battled to a standstill this spring. The guards are arguably the key to the offense, because they do so much pulling.

At running back, Tre Mason is the starter but Cameron Artis-Payne will see a good amount of turns as the change of pace running back. Mason is an all-around runner, while Artis-Payne has lots of speed and sometimes surprising power.

THE BOTTOM LINE: What the Cougs figure to focus on is to try and take away the run, both by the quarterback and running backs, when WSU plays at Auburn on Aug. 31.

Why?

Over seven seasons where Malzahn has been a head coach or offensive coordinator, nine running backs have rushed for 1,000 yards or more.


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