ASU fails to cash in opportunities


AUBURN, Ala. — Opportunity denied.

Arkansas State had its chances, but time after time, failed to cash in.

Arkansas State matched Auburn’s high-octane offense but the Tigers turned

scoring opportunities into touchdowns while the Red Wolves settled for

field goals or nothing at all and lost 38-9 Saturday night at Jordan-Hare

Stadium.

ASU (1-1) had its nine-game winning streak snapped at the hands of former

head coach Gus Malzahn. The Red Wolves never led, but had opportunities

that never materialized into crossing the goal line.

It was a disappointing night for new Arkansas State coach Bryan Harsin.

“I thought our guys fought hard,” Harsin said. “We know we were playing a

good opponent and we know that we were going to have to play our very

best. … Offensively, we have to take advantage of our opportunities down

there specifically in the red zone. Those are probably the biggest things

that stood out.”

Auburn took the lead on its first possession and never trailed. But the

Tigers couldn’t put ASU away without a struggle.

Arkansas State trailed 21-9 midway through the fourth quarter and had the

ball to make it a one-possession game. But The Red Wolves were forced to

punt and Auburn scored 17 unanswered points to end the threat.

ASU quarterback Adam Kennedy said it was a night of missed chances.

Kennedy was 29-of-41 passing for 272 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran

for 74 yards, but it wasn’t enough against a team that was strong up

front.

“I think it was just their D-line,” Kennedy said. “I think their D-line is

big and fast. They were plugging holes and opening up lanes for their

linebackers to shoot through. Obviously, after what we did last week, I’m

sure they made it a priority to stop the run and they did so.”

Auburn finished 468 yards offense, including 319 on the ground, and 23

first downs.

ASU matched the Tigers with 422 yards offense and 24 first downs. But on

two occasions in the first half, the Red Wolves opted to go for it on

fourth down instead of attempting field goals and came away with nothing.

ASU running back David Oku, who was held to 48 yards on 16 carries, said

the offense did it’s job but not when it counted.

Oku was stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the Auburn 20 late in the first

quarter, and fourth-and-5 at the Auburn 25 midway through the second

quarter.

“We were running the ball,” Oku said. “It was difficult at all. We shot

ourselves in the foot with a couple of plays. As far as the offense, I’ll

take the blame. I just talked to (Steven) Haunga, and we take the blame

for not getting the ball in because we got down there three times.”

After running for over 500 yards the week before, Arkansas State struggled

in the run game against Auburn in the first half.

The Red Wolves managed just 39 yards on 21 carries and trailed 21-3 going

into the halftime break.

“It was just simple things,” Oku added. “That’s what you’ve got to fix.

When you play a team like this, you can’t have those. Like I said, that

falls on me.”

Auburn (2-0) took the opening kickoff and drove for a touchdown without

much resistance.

The Tigers marched 67 yards in 10 plays, and managed to score despite a

couple of penalties that pushed them into a first-and-23 at the ASU 25.

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who was 10-of-17 for 147 yards and two

TDs, found Marcus Davis wide open over the middle on a play-action pass

for an 18-yard TD on third-and-17. ASU saftey Sterling Young had a chance

but broke late on the play, and the Tigers took a 7-0 lead with 11:37 to

play in the opening quarter.

“I want to say they sent four verticals, so it put some stress on me,”

Young said of the play. “I could have made a better play. I kind of

hesitage because I thought he overthrew it. That’s just something I need

to do a better job of.”

But Arkansas State answered with points on its first drive.

The Red Wolves systematically moved down field from the 25 to the Auburn

17, taking close to five minutes and 14 plays. The drive stalled inside

the red zone when the Tigers stuffed a misdirection run by Fredi Knighten

and Kennedy was forced to throw the ball away under pressure on third

down.

ASU placekicker Brian Davis followed with a 34-yard field goal to get the

Red Wolves within 7-3 with 6:54 to go in the opening quarter.

Auburn came right back with an 85-yard scoring drive that included some

long-yardage plays by Marshall.

The Tigers got 17-yard slant from Marshall to Jaylon Denson followed by a

25-yard run by Marshall on a nice spin out of trouble to his left.

Marshall broke away for 16 yards to the ASU 19 on a similar play, and

Corey Grant took a handoff in motion to the right for a 17-yard TD and

14-3 lead late in the first quarter.

ASU drove into Auburn territory and threatened to put points on the

scoreboard again. But the Red Wolves bogged down at the Auburn 20, and

David Oku as stuffed for no gain on a power play through the middle.

Harsin said the missed red zone chances hurt ASU’s chances, but he liked

the play call to send Oku through the middle.

“That’s a good play for us and they played it well,” Harsin said. “That’s

one that we’ve been very good at. That’s one that we practice quite a bit,

so you’ve got to give them credit as well.”

Arkansas State threatened late in the first half again, driving to the

Auburn 33. But the Tigers pressures on Kennedy in the pocket and he took a

5-yard loss trying to scramble out of trouble to kill the drive.

Auburn took a commanding lead on its next possession.

Marshall hooked up with Sammie Coates for a 68-yard touchdown pass on a

straight post route. Coates got behind ASU’s Rocky Hayes, pulled in the

reception and out-ran Hayes to the end zone to make it 21-3, which stood

at the half.

Hayes appeared to pull up on the play, favoring a hamstring, as Coates ran

away from him the final 15 yards.

ASU had 200 yards offense at the half, but the Auburn used several big

plays to roll up 282 yards offense.

Arkansas State opened the second half much like the first, driving for a

field goal.

The Red Wolves marched from their 12 to the Auburn 3-yard line. But they

bogged down when Oku was stuffed on a pair of runs up the middle and

settled for Davis’ 21-yard field goal to pull within 21-6.

Auburn turned the ball over on its next possession and the Red Wovles

found themselves with another chance to score.

Lee batted the ball out of the hands of Marshall on a quarterback keeper

for a fumble and Artez Brown recovered at the Tigers’ 17.

But ASU was unable to make a first down, and it had to settle for another

field goal. Davis booted a 42-yard kick through the uprights to pull the

Red Wolves within 21-9 with 7:53 to play in the third quarter.

“They out-executed us in critical situations and those are things that we

have got to improve on,” Harsin said.

Both teams traded punts, and Auburn answered with a touchdown drive to

make it 28-9 and retake control.

The Tigers kept the football on the ground for all but one play, running

it seven straight times. Mason finished off the 54-yard drive with an

11-yard TD run, getting a nice block from Grant to seal off ASU’s pursuit.

Auburn took a 31-9 lead on Cody Parkey’s 35-yard field goal with 8:46 to

play.

Arkansas State drove across midfield late in the game, but Kennedy was hit

from the blind side and coughed up the football. Auburn’s Carl Lawson

delivered the hit to jar the ball loose and Ricardo Louis recovered at the

45 for the Tigers.

Auburn finished the scoring six plays later when Cameron Artis-Payne

carried 11 yards around the end, cut back inside and scored to put the

Tigers up 38-9 with under two minutes to play.

Harsin acknowledged Auburn was tough in the trenches, and that was

probably the difference in the game.

“They’re good up front,” Harsin said. “I think their D-line played better.

We knew they were going to be an improved football team from last week,

and they were.”

Arkansas State returns home with a short week ahead. The Red Wolves face

Troy in their Sun Belt Conference opener on Thursday night.

Harsin seemed to lament the opportunities that got away.

“We need to find ways to get the ball in our play-makers hands and we have

three backs that can do that,” Harsin said. “That won’t change, we’ve just

got to do a better job of it. Particularly, when we get down in the red

zone, we’ve got to be able to find the end zone.”