AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s puzzling quarterback rotation against Clemson didn’t work out at all like he had hoped. The offense sputtered and gave away chance after chance to topple one of the best teams in the nation.
For the Tigers’ second game against Arkansas State, that plan was scrapped. Malzahn gave Sean White the reins, and White — along with the rest of the Auburn offense — took advantage.
He threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-23 passing, and the Tigers picked up 462 yards on the ground en route to a 51-14 demolition of Arkansas State on Saturday night.
The 706 total yards Auburn gained is the second-highest in school history, behind only the 712 the Tigers racked up against Western Carolina in 2013.
“We came out and we looked like an Auburn offense for the first time,” Malzahn said. “Just looking at it, without looking at the film, I can tell they definitely improved.”
Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway each tallied over 100 yards on the ground, the first time two Auburn players have eclipsed the century mark in a game since 2014.
Johnson added a pair of touchdowns, the first of which was a dazzling, cross-field, electrifying run that included a hurdle over an Arkansas State defender and a dive across the pylon.
“KJ, he’s got some unique abilities,” Malzahn said. “He can do some things that can kind of wow you at times, and of course, that was really impressive. There were some good blocks, too, but he really made something out of nothing on that one.”
That was one of a handful plays that elicited flashbacks to the explosive Auburn offense of 2013 and 2014. The most impressive one, however, came from a freshman.
Receiver Kyle Davis hauled in a falling, one-handed catch that bore a striking resemblance to New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham’s similar catch, one that has become iconic.
Arkansas State managed to scrape across a pair of touchdowns to go with the Red Wolves’ 326 total yards, but they couldn’t find much room to maneuver against a vastly improved Auburn defense.
“We felt like if we could hang close, stay close, keep it a game, that potentially third or fourth quarter some of our quickness out in space might give us a chance to be in the mix,” said Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson. “You had to make it a 60-minute game and the second quarter just got away from us, and at that point it just not the same conversation anymore.”
The Tigers tacked on points in 10 of their 12 drives, and at one point scored a touchdown on five consecutive possessions. One of those touchdowns came on a fake field goal, which holder Tyler Stovall and kicker Daniel Carlson executed to perfection.
Auburn rights the ship and quiets steadily rising concerns about the Tigers’ offensive woes and, perhaps more importantly, Malzahn’s job security.
Arkansas State’s troubles in the secondary — and the defense as a whole — continue to plague the Red Wolves, who have now been outscored 82-24 in their first two games this season.
With the way SEC teams have been struggling against inferior opponents, a wire-to-wire victory for Auburn might be enough to bump them into the Top 25.
“It was good to go out there and ball out with my teammates,” said Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson. “I’m glad we got a team win today. We need to keep improving, but I’m so happy we got a win for Auburn today.”
Auburn hosts No. 20 Texas A&M on Saturday.
Arkansas State travels to Utah State on Friday.