Matching Wits

  • By
  • |
  • September 15, 2009 09:12 AM
  • |
Posted by Tony Caridi on Tuesday, September 15, 2009
(9:15 am)
Post Your Comments Here

Arthur Gustav Malzahn III will play a huge role in Saturday’s West Virginia-Auburn game. Don’t waste your time scanning the Tigers’ roster, Arthur doesn’t play. He also doesn’t go by Arthur. He’s known simply as Gus, the hottest offensive coordinator in the game of football.

In his first two games directing Auburn’s offense, Malzahn’s Tigers are averaging 43 points. Auburn ranks second nationally in rushing offense and fourth in total offense. The Tigers are the only team in the nation with two players averaging more than 100 yards rushing per game. Oh yeah, Auburn has recorded back-to-back games of more than 500 offensive yards for the first time since 1970.

Is Gus enjoying a case of beginners luck against weak competition? No. This is how Gus rolls. Malzahn is a hired gun in the nicest way possible. He developed his no-huddle, spread attack while becoming a high school coaching legend in Arkansas. In December of 2005, with a handful of blue-chip recruits, he left the prep ranks to join Houston Nutt as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. In his first and only season, Malzahn helped lead the Razorbacks win the SEC Western Division title.

However, there was tension between Malzahn and Nutt. Gus hit the road to join former WVU assistant and current Tulsa head coach Todd Graham. It took no time for the Malzahn machine to get Tulsa rolling like a Hurricane. Tulsa was first in the nation in total yards per game, third nationally in passing, and led the conference in scoring. Balance is a constant with Malzahn’s offense; Tulsa became the first team in NCAA history to have a 5,000-yard passer, 1000-yard rusher and three 1,000-yard receivers in a single season.

Last year at Tulsa the offense was even better. They led the nation in total offense (570 yards per game) and were second in scoring at 47 points per game. Again, balance was the key. The Golden Hurricane ranked fifth in rushing and ninth in passing.

You could actually make the case that Malzahn gave an assist to Patrick White’s NFL career. Malzahn’s use of the Wildcat offense while at Arkansas with Darren McFadden led to its adoption by some teams in the NFL.

Gus Malzahn is outstanding, but so is WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Malzhan gets a great deal of publicity because he’s written a book and has an instructional video about his offensive philosophy. Casteel prefers anonymity to the limelight - he quietly orchestrates his unit with halftime tweaks that stifle opponents. Both coaches had a relationship with Todd Graham: Malzahn worked for him at Tulsa and Casteel worked with him at West Virginia.

On Saturday night, two of the nation’s top coordinators will play chess on a football field. It’s just one of several very intriguing match ups in what should be a very entertaining game.