Auburn-Arkansas: Which College Football Offensive Mastermind Will Win?

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Auburn-Arkansas: Which College Football Offensive Mastermind Will Win?
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It's old home week in the Ozarks this Saturday, with Auburn invading Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Auburn first-year offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will be only a few miles from the site of his high school coaching stomping grounds. Receiver/Wildcat quarterback Kodi Burns, a graduate of Fort Smith Northside—less than two miles from my home—will be coming home.

Tigers offensive tackle Lee Ziemba, though both parents are Auburn grads, played for the Rogers, Ark., Mounties—just 20 miles or so up I-540 from Fayetteville.

Both Burns and Ziemba were offered but lightly recruited by the previous Hog regime, no doubt stoking their fires a bit.

I've never met either young man, but have a friend who knows Burns well. I was once paired with Gus Malzahn and another man on a local golf course. I have nephews who went to school with Malzahn at what was then Fort Smith Christian.

I was new to the game of golf back when Malzahn was starting out as head football coach at Shiloh Christian High School in Springdale before moving to Springdale High. In an odd way, that may have contributed to Gus' move up the coaching ladder.

If Malzahn could survive such a traumatic experience as nine holes of golf with a guy who could crush the driver and couldn't hit any other club in the bag, nothing else figures to fluster the man. Like a scud missile or a Billy Joe Tolliver pass, no one knew where the ball would end up. Who's Billy Joe Tolliver, you ask? My point exactly.

Anyway, in addition to that trio, Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker coached at Arkansas for a few years and recruited many of the Hogs' current defensive linemen.

So, both Gus Malzahn and Bobby Petrino have reputations as offensive gurus far and wide. Which one has the advantage Saturday? An irony is both men have served as offensive coordinator at the other's current school.

I've heard Malzahn's name mentioned for a possible head coaching vacancy at Colorado, which would be a good fit, what with all the spread offenses in the Big 12.

Petrino was at Auburn in 2002 running the offense—with Gene Chizik running the defense, by the way. Malzahn had the title of offensive coordinator at Arkansas in 2006. I say he had the title, because everyone knew who mostly ran the UA offense.

Therefore, Gene Chizik should know something about how Petrino thinks. Of course, the reverse is true, also.

A lot of Hogs know Malzahn well. None better than TE Ben Cleveland and kicker Alex Tejada, who played for Gus at Springdale.

Actually, in my opinion, both offenses will shine Saturday. Both Malzahn and Petrino will have brilliant gameplans and make a lot of good calls. The key will be which defense slows the other offense better or creates more turnovers.

The biggest advantage the Hogs have is the carryover from the Texas A&M game to this one, with both running hurry-up no-huddle offenses.

Another advantage is the Hogs played and defeated Malzahn's Tulsa team late last season. If only Gus was playing this game with Tulsa's players, the Hogs would be a solid favorite.

While Tulsa has several skill position players who could play in the SEC, no one in either line or on their defense could come close to cracking Auburn's lineup.

If the Hogs can pressure Chris Todd anything like the defense harassed Jerrod Johnson last week, the Hogs will win. If Auburn gets pressure on Ryan Mallett like Alabama did, the Tigers win. If Mallett has time to throw, look out. Auburn has not seen a passer or receivers like the Hogs possess.

While West Virginia has great team speed and Noel Devine, the Mountaineers' receivers don't come close to Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, and company. Michael Smith had a Devine-like performance at Auburn last season.

While the Hogs are 3-1 in the last four games at Auburn, Auburn has won in their last three trips to Fayetteville. The Hogs have not won at home in this series since Matt Jones was a freshman in 2001.

Overall, the Hogs are only 2-4 in Fayetteville under Petrino, 0-4 in SEC play. For this program to contend for future SEC honors, that must change.

The last time the Hogs won on campus was last Nov. 1 against the then-undefeated and 18th-ranked Tulsa Golden Hurricane and Gus Malzahn.

Now the 17th-ranked and undefeated Auburn Tigers come to northwest Arkansas. If the line in the Coldplay song "Clocks"—saying "Tigers waiting to be tamed"—is to be prophetic, recent history in this series must be reversed.

Philosopher George Santayana said those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. The Hogs hope that the win over an undefeated team recently ranked in the teens is the past that is repeated.

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