Old pals Malzahn, Morris face off in Auburn-Arkansas game
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris joined the ranks of Southeastern Conference head coaches after winning three state titles apiece in high school and transitioning to college as offensive coordinators.
The two friends have something else in common: Both could really use a win.
Malzahn and No. 9 Auburn (2-1, 0-1 SEC) face his buddy’s first Arkansas team Saturday night trying to rebound from a last-second loss to No. 6 LSU. Morris and the Razorbacks (1-2, 0-0) have gotten off to a rocky start entering their SEC opener
“The challenge we have now is we’re in the same conference,” Malzahn said. “In the past, we’ve shared ideas. He’s helped me, too. But now he’s in competition. And we both understand that. He’s a great competitor, and we’ll compete. After the game, we’ll shake hands and everything will be great. That’s really about it.”
Malzahn won three Arkansas state titles and Morris matched him in Texas. Both are former Tulsa offensive coordinators.
They met when Morris called up and wanted to bring his staff to watch one of Malzahn’s teams in action, then spend a couple of days picking his brain about offense.
“I always knew he had something special about him,” Malzahn said. “He’s a great person. He’s one of the good guys in our business. But he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around.”
Morris said he visited Malzahn because he wanted to learn about his up tempo offense and adapt to developing offensive trends.
“A lot of similar paths of how we’ve all gotten to where we are today,” Morris said, adding that their wives are close friends.
Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham went to high school with Morris’s daughter and said his parents considered buying the coach’s old house in Stephenville, Texas.
But Malzahn and Stidham will be on opposite sides from Morris Saturday night.
Both coaches have some work to do, though their programs are at entirely different stages. The Razorbacks are coming off back-to-back losses to North Texas and Colorado State.
Auburn fell 22-21 to LSU on a last-second field goal but remains a 30-point favorite against Arkansas.
Some other things to know about the Arkansas-Auburn game:
Arkansas is turning again to quarterback Ty Storey as the starting quarterback a week after Cole Kelley was intercepted four times against North Texas. Storey struggled in his only career start against Colorado State, completing 5 of 13 passes for 36 yards and throwing a pair of interceptions. But he had passed for 261 yards and three touchdowns against Eastern Illinois.
Arkansas quarterbacks threw six interceptions against North Texas, though Storey didn’t play. Auburn had some issues of its own. Stidham was intercepted twice by LSU but the team also committed two costly pass interference penalties on the final drive and was flagged a number of other times.
Auburn redshirt freshman JaTarvious Whitlow hasn’t started a game yet but he has clearly been the team’s most productive runner. Whitlow has a pair of 100-yard games though Kam Martin and freshman Shaun Shivers have logged the starts. Whitlow is the first Auburn freshman with consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Michael Dyer in the 2010 national championship season.
Arkansas is seeking its first win in a league opener since beating Georgia in 2010. The last time they won an SEC opener on the road was 2006 against Vanderbilt.
It’s clear that even beyond Whitlow, freshmen are becoming key playmakers for Auburn. That includes Shivers and wide receivers Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz.