Quarterback Nick Marshall looked more confident in his second start for Auburn, and Auburn’s coaches looked more confident in him.
In Auburn’s first scoring drive, Marshall completed 4 of 5 passes, including the 18-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Davis. On the second drive, he hit a big third-down pass to Jaylon Denson before taking off for two big runs.
Marshall finished the first half with 198 total yards and two touchdown passes, including a 68-yard bomb to Sammie Coates. He committed his first turnover at Auburn with a third-quarter fumble at Auburn’s 17, but it resulted in a field goal.
It was bend but don’t break for Auburn, which gave up yards between the 20-yard lines but stiffened in the red zone.
Arkansas State’s first four possessions reached the red zone or close to it, resulting in a field goal, two fourth-down stops and a punt. The Tigers stuffed David Oku on fourth-and-one from the their 20 in the first quarter and flushed quarterback Adam Kennedy from the pocket, forcing a rushed throw on fourth-and-five from the AU 25 in the second. ASU got inside Auburn’s 5 to start the third quarter and recovered a Marshall fumble at the 17, but both chances resulted in field goals.
There was nothing spectacular, but there was nothing disastrous.
Steven Clark’s 25-yard punt in the fourth quarter gave Arkansas State good field position, but Auburn’s defense again stiffened when ASU got into scoring position.
A holding penalty on Chris Davis’ 39-yard punt return pretty much doomed any chance Auburn had to score at the end of the second quarter, but the Tigers were leading 21-3 by that point.
On offense, Auburn’s coaching staff turned Marshall loose to do more in his second start with Auburn, and he made plays while committing just one turnover. Defensively, the Tigers kept Arkansas State in front of them, save for one play. J.D. McKissic would have scored had Kennedy’s 40-yard pass in the first quarter hit him in stride. McKissic had to lunge out to catch it and fell to the turf.
Malzahn’s history with Arkansas State, having coached the Red Wolves in 2012, raised the possibility of the defending Sun Belt Conference champion giving Auburn a scare. Because of Auburn’s defense, it didn’t happen, and Marshall continued to gain confidence headed into next week’s SEC opener.