Arkansas State had a veteran offensive line, most of the key pieces returning from the best defense in the Sun Belt Conference last season and a quarterback with some significant in-game experience.
Auburn, by contrast, had Cameron Newton.
One player made a major difference in this case, as Newton single-handedly compiled 347 yards of offense-including an Auburn-record 171 yards rushing for a quarterback-while throwing for three touchdowns and running for two more. The talented quarterback led No. 22 Auburn to a 52-26 victory over Arkansas State in their mutual season opener.
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"Offensively, I don't know if I have seen a better individual performance than what we saw tonight out of Cam Newton," Red Wolves coach Steve Roberts said. "He may be the best player that I have been able to see live. He's a heck of a player and obviously a pretty big difference in the ballgame tonight."
The good news is that Arkansas State won't be facing players the caliber of Newton, or teams like Auburn, on a regular basis this season. And, offensively speaking, the Wolves held their own. In the debut of Hugh Freeze's spread offense at Arkansas State, the Wolves generated 366 yards, and the 26 points marked the team's highest point total against an opponent ranked in the top 25 in Roberts' tenure as head coach.
The Wolves also got off to a fantastic start, forcing a stop on Auburn's opening possession and then putting it into the end zone themselves on Ryan Aplin's scoring strike to Dwayne Frampton. The good feelings didn't last for Arkansas State, as Auburn scored a touchdown on three of its next four possessions.
• The Red Wolves looked like they would be a pass-happy team in the spring game, attempting 56 throws in that intrasquad contest, and that tendency held in the first official game with offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze calling the shots. Arkansas State attempted 49 passes in the 56-26 loss to Auburn, while tallying 35 rushes.
• Plenty of Red Wolves experienced some sort of first in their trip to The Plains. Six players logged their first career start and 21 made their debut for Arkansas State, including three true freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen.
-Freshman Brian Davis ended up handling the placekicking duty for the Wolves. He had his first extra-point attempt blocked, but converted his next two and also successfully made both of his field goal attempts.
Game Ball Goes To: QB Ryan Aplin-Aplin lamented some missed opportunities in postgame interviews, but the quarterback kept Arkansas State's up-tempo spread offense moving at the proper pace, and registered single-game highs in passes completed (28), attempted (42) and passing yards (278).
Keep An Eye On: WR Dwayne Frampton-The junior college transfer wasted little time in claiming a starting job with the Red Wolves, and showed why in the game against Auburn. Frampton made a team-high eight catches for 74 yards receiving. For what it's worth, Frampton's receptions total equaled the single-game high for any ASU player last season.
Quote To Note: "I'm disappointed we did not win the ballgame. We have a ton of things we need to improve on and that need to be corrected. We want to win a Sun Belt championship and win enough games to go to a bowl game."-Head coach Steve Roberts.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Looking Good: QB Ryan Aplin did a fine job managing the game-and not getting killed in the process by a more talented Auburn team. The Arkansas State receiving corps flourished in offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze's wide-open scheme. Six wideouts recorded a career-high catch total and WRs Allen Muse and Lucious Henderson also reached new highs in receiving yardage. Tausean Holmes, one of three first-time starters in the secondary, forced a fumble and made seven tackles. CB M.D. Jennings, the veteran in the defensive backfield, tallied a team-high 11 stops with 1.5 tackles for loss.
Still Needs Work: Arkansas State's offensive line has a senior at every position, but that experience didn't help matters against Auburn. The Red Wolves' front surrendered four sacks and the Tigers hurried QBs Ryan Aplin and Phillip Butterfield an additional 10 times. Arkansas State also accomplished little on the ground, averaging a paltry 1.2 yards per rushing attempt. Was this gross mismatch the result of Auburn having superior talent, or a sign the Red Wolves' line will be porous this season? This question should be answered next week when ASU opens its Sun Belt season against Louisiana-Lafayette.
• DL Dorvus Woods, DE Justin Robertson, CB Walter Moody, CB Darron Edwards, DB Tausean Holmes and WR Anthony Robinson all started for the first time for Arkansas State.
• RB Derek Lawson, the replacement for 4,000-yard rusher Reggie Arnold, gained just 45 yards rushing but did tally his seventh collegiate touchdown early in the third quarter.
• DT Bryan Hall, the preseason Sun Belt defensive player of the year, barely dented the stat sheet. Hall finished with only one quarterback hurry and did not make a tackle.