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Auburn freshman quarterback Kodi Burns is from Fort Smith, Ark. Here, Mississippi State defender Demario Bobo grabs Burns' facemask in a Sept. 15 contest.
Daily file photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Auburn freshman quarterback Kodi Burns is from Fort Smith, Ark. Here, Mississippi State defender Demario Bobo grabs Burns' facemask in a Sept. 15 contest.

It'll be a reunion for Burns
AU freshman QB, Tigers visit Arkansas

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2460

The choice stood before Kodi Burns last winter: Arkansas or Auburn?

Would he spend the next four or five years of his life in Fayetteville, Ark., a mere mile from his hometown, or Auburn more than 600 miles away from where he grew up in Fort Smith, Ark.?

His family offered him a little advice.

"None of them wanted to see me stay home. They always wanted me to get out of Arkansas," said Burns, Auburn's freshman quarterback who committed in November. "There's a lot more out in the world than there is in Arkansas."

Burns returns to his home state Saturday when No. 22 Auburn (4-2, 2-1 SEC) faces Arkansas (3-2, 0-2) in Razorback Stadium.

Following his pedestrian start against New Mexico State, Burns' involvement in the offense has decreased substantially.

The resurgence of quarterback Brandon Cox and the Auburn offense has placed Burns into a predictable role: Take the snap, run left, right or straight ahead.

But Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said the speedy 18-year-old will remain part of the game plan.

"If we want to possibly get outside the pocket or boots or have an option read or stuff like that," Tuberville said, "Brandon's not going to do that."

Burns certainly has, but not well lately. Defenses have crowded the line of scrimmage when he enters the game. Burns saw his first action of the season against Mississippi State, surprising the Bulldogs for 87 yards on 22 carries. But since then, he has 13 carries for 29 yards.

He's completed just two passes since going 8-for-12 against the Bulldogs in the third game of the season. But Burns says he's starting to learn more of Al Borges' offense, instead of just run right, left and straight ahead. "I feel like I've got a pretty good grasp of it now, going through game and seeing how Brandon makes the checks and the calls," said Burns, who grew up a Florida State fan.

The unofficial heir to Cox, Burns replaced the embattled senior earlier than expected after Cox threw six interceptions and Auburn slid to a 1-2 start.

But things began to change midway through the Tigers' win over New Mexico State. Benched to start the game, Cox returned to the field in the second quarter and led Auburn to 41 unanswered points. He regained his confidence and hasn't lost his job to Burns again.

"It's like anything else — like driving a race car," Tuberville said, explaining Cox's recent success. "You've got to know how fast it'll go and how fast to take the curves."

Burns takes the curves, well, fast. Although his playing time has been reduced, Burns still provides Auburn with an explosive weapon, a spark, a little jazz to a sometimes dull offense.

His presence forces opponents to spend extra time in practice preparing for his quick attack. Arkansas coach Houston Nutt thought he would be using Burns to muddle other defenses. Now, he's the one who faces a guy he nearly had on his roster.

Burns said Arkansas' troubles during the offseason played a part in his decision to shun the Razorbacks and come to Auburn. Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left the program last spring and so did several players, including highly touted freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain.

"The main reason I wanted to go to Arkansas was to play for Malzahn," Burns said. "He's obviously not there now, so in the end, I made the right choice."

A former high school head coach, Malzahn was hired by Nutt after a disappointing 2005 season to resurrect a struggling offense. He brought with him his high school quarterback Mustain and a no-huddle, spread offense. But that scheme never won popularity with Nutt, who prefers a run-heavy style.

Although Malzahn left Arkansas for Tulsa after Burns signed with Auburn, the rumblings of his departure began in Fayetteville during the recruiting process as the Razorbacks lost their last three games of the 2006 season.

"With the stuff boiling up around there, it was a pretty crazy time," said Burns, who has attended just two Arkansas football games in his life. "Auburn seemed stable and Arkansas kind of seemed shaky at the time."

So he listened to his family and chose home — well, home away from home.

"At Auburn, I kind of felt a little more at home, although Arkansas is the actual home," he said, laughing.

No. 22 Auburn (4-2, 2-1 SEC) at Arkansas (3-2, 0-2)

When: Saturday, 6:45 p.m.

Where: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium at Fayetteville, Ark.

Line: Arkansas by 3.

TV/radio: ESPN will carry the game on television. The radio broadcast can be heard on FM-106.1,FM-95.9, FM-98.3 and AM-1230

Players to watch: Again this week on offense, itís Auburn running back Brad Lester. Lesterís role is likely to increase. The junior ended a six-game suspension last week with a successful outing against Vanderbilt. Coaches say Lester will need to win his starting job back. Sophomore Ben Tate has started all six games this season and likely will start against Arkansas. On defense, itís defensive end Antonio Coleman, who is replacing injured starter Quentin Groves for a second week. Coleman had a good outing against Vandy but will need an even better game against the run-heavy Razorbacks.

For Arkansas, the running back duo of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones will decide whether the Razorbacks put up points. The two combine for 281 rushing yards a game, leading the second-ranked rushing offense in the land.

Key matchup: No doubt on this one. Itís Auburnís battered front seven against the run-it-down-your-throat Arkansas offense. The Tigers are lacking two starting linebackers and a starting defensive end. If they hold Jones and McFadden to fewer than 200 combined yards, they did well.

Weather: Partly cloudy with a high of 78 and a low of 59. The chance of rain is 10 percent.

Last meeting: Arkansas 27, Auburn 10; Oct. 7, 2007 in Auburn.

Prediction: Auburn 27, Arkansas 21.

Ross Dellenger, Daily Sports Writer

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