Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Get to know Auburn with beat writer Brandon Marcello
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (14) salutes fans after scoring against Alabama on a 45-yard touchdown run during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
FAYETTEVILLE Each week I will ask a beat writer who covers Arkansas' opponent to help us get to know the opposing team a little better.
This week Brandon Marcello of AL.com answered four questions leading up to the game between the Razorbacks and No. 6 Auburn. You might remember Brandon, who worked here at WholeHogSports from 2009 to 2010.
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Matt Jones: Is Jeremy Johnson like Nick Marshall or different? How can we expect to see them used Saturday?
Brandon Marcello: Simply put, they are not the same type of quarterback. The offense will not change a lot with Jeremy Johnson in the game, but I suspect the zone read will not be used as much with the sophomore running the show Saturday. Nick Marshall mastered the zone-read option last season and rushed for 1,068 yards, and I suspect that will continue whenever he takes the field against Arkansas. Johnson can move, sure, but he’s much bigger than Marshall at 6-foot-5 and coaches really like his arm. Auburn promises to throw the ball more this season than in 2013, when they ran the ball on 71.9 percent of their plays for the season and threw only nine passes against the Razorbacks. I think Auburn will stick with its running backs early and try to open things up as Johnson gets comfortable. How long will he stay in the game? That remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Marshall comes in during the first half.
Jones: Auburn lost some key players from last season; are there any positions where you feel the Tigers are vulnerable playing their first game in eight months?
Marcello: I’m not sure yet if Auburn has what it needs right now at defensive end after losing Dee Ford to the NFL and Carl Lawson, the team’s leading returner in sacks, to injury for at least half the season. The good news for the Tigers is they don’t expect to face a pass-first offense Saturday, so the bigger defensive line they’re using – the “Rhino” package – and a deep rotation at tackle should help them against the run. Auburn is still working through its plans at running back, and I expect at least three will play against the Razorbacks. It may take some time to find some consistency there. I’m also curious to see the defensive backs, especially with Jonathon Mincy set to miss sometime early in the game.
Jones: A season opener is always big, but do you still think this game holds a little added significance for the Auburn coaching staff given so many have ties to Arkansas?
Marcello: I think it did last year, but not so much this year. The coaches have moved on a bit from that storyline, and while it did tug at them a little bit traveling back to Fayetteville, getting the Razorbacks in their own backyard changes the scenery and removes some of the emotion. Now, if Houston Nutt was still coaching Arkansas, that would be a different story. Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee got comfortable and proved themselves a bit last season at Auburn, and I believe their Arkansas days seem like ages ago at this point in their careers.
Jones: You have covered Gus Malzahn at Arkansas and Auburn; what are the differences between then and now?
Marcello: To be honest, not much. He still keeps everything close to the vest and he rarely offers detailed notes about his team in interviews with the media. He’s obsessed with his job and making sure no one has an advantage on him. You could say that about every coach in the SEC, sure, but the coach fans watched develop at Shiloh Christian and Springdale High is the same guy at Auburn now. He was an SEC coach before he even dreamt of being a college coach. The only difference now is he has a cell phone and hits recruiting as hard as he does his on-the-field duties. He’s animated on the sidelines and subdued in media setting.
I do think he learned a thing or two as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator and later at Tulsa, where he was allowed run his full offense alongside Herb Hand. Malzahn has always loved running the ball, but the flexibility of his offense and the various running plays he now utilizes deepened during those three years with the Razorbacks and Golden Hurricane.