Malzahn's looks for triumphant return to Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)
Gus Malzahn returning to Arkansas always seems to bring with it a certain degree of reminiscing, often about less-than-serene times with the Razorbacks.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, however, managed to bring Malzahn's current position as the head coach at Auburn to the front and center of the discussion this week.
The No. 8 Tigers (7-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) hope to continue their season of re-emergence under Malzahn on Saturday when they travel to face the reeling Razorbacks - losers of five straight in their first season under Bielema.
The game already had more than its share of intrigue, given Malzahn's return to his native state - where he began coaching in high school - and his former position as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas (3-5, 0-4).
Bielema, though, added to the subplots on Monday when he accused the Tigers of being less-than forthcoming in the video exchange between the two schools.
It was the third run-in for Bielema with members of the Auburn coaching staff since July, dating back to a bit of back-and-forth between the former Wisconsin coach and Malzahn at SEC media days over player-injury concerns in a hurry-up offense.
''I'll let the SEC offices handle it,'' Bielema said. ''I'm sure it will be handled in the right way.''
Malzhan promised to get to the bottom of the video issue, but the latest banter between him and Bielema has only added interest in a game already expected to be full of emotion - even if only for the Arkansas fans who still remember Malzahn's brief stint with the Razorbacks.
The 2006 season was Malzahn's only one with Arkansas as an assistant coach, but it was one that won't be forgotten inside the state anytime soon.
From rumors of strife over play-calling with then-coach Houston Nutt to his former high school players Damian Williams and Mitch Mustain transferring away from the Razorbacks after he left, it was a season unlike any other in Arkansas history.
The reserved Malzahn has never talked directly about the behind-the-scenes happenings of that season, but it will be on the minds of many fans on Saturday - just as the importance of his return to his native state will be on the minds of the Auburn players.
''As players, we're going to try our hardest to give everything we have for this game,'' Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah said. ''We know how much it means to him to be back in his home state and to get a win there. We're going to prepare harder than we've ever prepared and try to get this victory.''
Five things to watch for as Auburn looks to make Malzahn a winner in his home state:
ARKANSAS FLAVOR: Malzahn is one of many members of the Auburn coaching staff with ties to Arkansas. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee played for Malzahn in high school in Arkansas, while running backs coach Tim Horton played for the Razorbacks and coached at the school. Also, a pair of former Arkansas prep standouts - Johnny Brewer and Kodi Burns - are graduate assistants for the Tigers, and Malzahn's brother-in-law Jamie Croley, a native of Fort Smith, Ark., is the school's director of football operations.
DESPERATION MODE: While Auburn is enjoying a rebirth after last year's 3-9 disaster in its first season under Malzahn, who was the Tigers' offensive coordinator during their 2010 national championship season, Arkansas is experiencing the exact opposite under Bielema. The Razorbacks, who were 4-8 last season under interim coach John L. Smith, are 7-13 in their last 19 games - and their current losing streak is the longest of Bielema's career. Bielema said last week that personnel changes could be in store for Arkansas moving forward, something to watch on Saturday.
MARSHALL'S RETURN: Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall has accounted for 1,690 yards of total offense in his first season with the Tigers. The junior, however, injured his shoulder early in last week's 45-10 win over Florida Atlanta, and Malzahn said he could be a game-time decision.
RUNNING WILD: Led by four players - Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, Marshall and Corey Grant - averaging more than 50 yards rushing per game, Auburn leads the SEC in rushing this season, averaging 315.4 yards per game. Arkansas, meanwhile, has allowed an average of 251.5 yards rushing in its four SEC games.
MORE MALZAHN: Saturday will mark Malzahn's fourth trip back to Razorback Stadium for an opposing team, though his first three trips were as an assistant at Tulsa in 2007 and with Auburn in 2009 and 2011. Malzahn's teams lost each of those visits, and he's 1-3 overall against the Razorbacks as an assistant -with his lone win coming in 2010 at Auburn.