1. It's safe to say that most Arkansas fans are familiar with Gus Malzahn's offensive philosophy, so most are already aware that the most important component is a quarterback capable of making a defense pay with both his arm and his legs. Leaving Cam Newton out of the discussion, is there another recent SEC quarterback to compare him to in order to give us an idea of what to expect?
I'm actually not sure there's a recent SEC QB who really matches up with Marshall, since most of the "mobile/spread" guys have been bigger and able to do some power running. Marshall is only 6'1/210, so he does most of his running to the outside and away from contact. In fact, Malzahn is having to teach Marshall to avoid hits because the QB has been banged up a couple of times this year.
I'd actually say he's more similar to former Oregon QB Darron Thomas. He has a strong arm but not-so-great accuracy, and he's really fast. You'll definitely see Marshall run the zone read, and he'll probably throw the ball between 15 and 20 times. Some of the throws will look awful, and some will be NFL-quality. The biggest assets of Marshall's are his poise and confidence. He never seems to get rattled, and that's a big reason why this offense is having success.
2. How about a run down of the other plug-and-play components of Malzahn's attack this season?
Gus is a big fan of wide receiver screens and other short throws that get the ball to playmakers in space, and you'll likely see that on Saturday. For deeper throws, he'll call hitch-and-go and other double-move-type stuff. But his bread and butter is the run game. Tre Mason is the feature back, Cameron Artis-Payne is the bruiser and Corey Grant is the speed back. Grant usually gets the buck and jet sweeps to the outside, and Mason and Artis-Payne to the work in between the tackles. Although, Mason has the speed to run outside, as well. He'll likely be the offensive catalyst against Arkansas.
3. Despite conceding yardage like the Union army at Bull Run, Auburn's scoring defense has remained respectable. What are the Tigers doing to stiffen up in and near the red zone?
In today's modern world of offense-centric football, I actually think Auburn's defense is very good. Aside from the absolute best defenses, it's tough to keep offenses from picking up bunches of yards, so the Tigers make plenty of plays and buckle down when their backs are against the wall. Auburn is tied for the SEC lead with 61 tackles for loss, tied for second with 20 sacks and tied for fourth with nine interceptions. The Tigers allow opponents to score on 72 percent of red zone possessions, second in the conference, and they give up red zone touchdowns just 44 percent of the time, also second.
Auburn's defensive line is playing really well, thanks in large part to such a deep rotation. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will rotate eight or nine guys throughout the game, and that allows the line to be fresh late in the fourth quarter. It's paid off with big game-ending sacks against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. The secondary is playing well, too. Auburn's DBs will give up some yards, but they're rarely beat deep and are often playing good, tight coverage.
4. Is any particular brand of TP preferred when one rolls Toomer's? Inquiring minds and all that.
I'm sure everyone has brand loyalty, but you've gotta go with a thicker roll. None of that thin, cheap stuff; it's liable to tear on the throw.
5. What is one thing that could happen Saturday night that would completely surprise Arkansas fans while being completely unsurprising to Auburn fans?
Nick Marshall could win the game with his arm. While it would be a little surprising to Auburn fans, it's something we believe can happen if necessary. Against Mississippi State, the Bulldogs stacked the box all night and completely shut down Auburn's running game. Marshall carried the team, completing 23-of-34 passes for 339 yards two touchdowns and two interceptions. Down three with 1:56 left, he led the Tigers on a game winning drive, completing 6-of-8 passes for 66 yards and an 11-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left.
6. Asking for a prediction seems anti-climatic. IF you were a betting man... how many points would Auburn have to lay in order for you to bet on an Arkansas cover?
While I feel pretty comfortable going into this one, I'm still having a hard time believing Auburn is actually this good, and I'm always wary of the Arkansas game. The Razorbacks have a knack for ruining the Tigers' seasons, and this matchup is set up perfectly for that. I think Auburn will win, and probably comfortably, but it wouldn't surprise me if the game is closer than expected. If I were betting, I don't think I'd give more than 14 points.
7. Bret Bielema's complaint about Auburn omitting film of their "swinging gate" PAT formation has, at the very least, ensured that everyone will pay attention whenever the Tigers score.
Auburn certainly isn't the only team shifting into special teams formations immediately pre-snap, but is there a specific reason for why the Tigers do it?
It seems that this PAT option is a staple of up-tempo/spread teams these days, and I don't see many, if any, teams with traditional offenses running it. I think Malzahn is just seeking out any extra advantage he can possibly get, and if that means picking up two points instead of one after a touchdown here or there, he's all for it. It's perfectly fine when it works, but I'd be happy if Auburn would just line up and kick it.