John Zenor of the Associated Press is reporting Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn is headed back to Auburn, where he was the offensive coordinator from 2009 through 2011.
Malzahn led Arkansas State to its second consecutive Sun Belt championship this season, employing his version of the spread offense to the tune of 36.4 points per game. The RedWolves led the Sun Belt in scoring, and were No. 21 nationally. Quarterback Ryan Aplin was used in a fashion similar as Cam Newton when the latter won the 2010 Heisman Trophy. Aplin threw 23 touchdowns to just four interceptions and completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 3129 yards. He was used effectively in rushing situations, going for 443 yards and six touchdowns.
Aplin’s workload in the run game was cut dramatically (161 to 96 carries) from 2011 when current Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze was the leader in Jonesboro. That’s because ASU under Malzahn employed a dual running back system that diversified the RedWolves’ looks. David Oku and Rocky Hayes were a potent one-two punch of thunder-and-lightning, akin to Auburn’s use of Michael Dyer McCaleb under Malzahn.
Malzahn’s reported hire makes sense: his offensive credentials are well established, he’s familiar with the program and the SEC, and he had success in his one season as a head coach. The surprising angle to this move is that Malzahn served as fired former Auburn coach Gene Chizik’s assistant for three years. Names without ties to the previous regime surfaced, including UCLA’s Jim Mora and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez. Neither developed beyond the most preliminary of rumor stages.
Fired Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino was another name passed through the ether, again without substantiation. A more realistic option from within SEC Country was Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Smart’s units in Tuscaloosa have routinely been among the nation’s best, while Auburn has been among the least effective defensive teams in the SEC each of the past two seasons.