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Game Preview - #16 Auburn vs #11 Oregon

A huge opportunity for Auburn and a learning experience for us Tiger fans approaches...

You know, we make it through the abyss every single year.

There’s roughly 220 days without college football from the time that the national championship game is played until this week’s games commence. Most of the time it’s a grind. A slog. It sucks.

Thankfully 2019 has been very good to Auburn fans. Football season ended, and Bruce Pearl’s basketball team took us into April with a run to the Final Four. After that, Butch Thompson and the baseball team pushed the end of the athletic season nearly into July with a College World Series berth. We didn’t have long to wait before it was time for Gus Malzahn to take center stage with a team chock full of possibility.

Not everything was positive, however. The Auburn family lost its voice at the end of May, and the healing process has barely begun. Today’s going to be narrated by a friendly voice, though, and Rod Bramblett wouldn’t have it any other way. Andy Burcham’s going to a fantastic job, and I have a feeling that he’s going to describe some unreal football this year.

It starts today with the biggest game of opening weekend.

We last saw Oregon nine seasons ago, when Auburn beat the Ducks for the BCS National Championship. In the time since, they’ve let the sting of defeat fester (Michael Dyer was totally up, and you weren’t stopping us even if he wasn’t), so the Ducks could have been biding their time to wait for the perfect moment to exact revenge.

If it’s going to happen today, they’ll have to get through a few things. First of all, the best defensive front in college football is standing in the way of their prospective first-round pick at quarterback. Rodney Garner’s been crafting a defensive line that includes the right combination of highly-rated studs and wily experience. Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, Nick Coe, Tyrone Truesdell, T.D. Moultry, and Big Kat Bryant stand to make things difficult for Oregon’s touted offensive line.

Where Oregon may end up finding a little room (although the coaches are confident that this won’t happen) is in the middle of Auburn’s defense, where the linebacking corps is new from last season. Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams, and Montavious Atkinson are all gone, but K.J. Britt, Chandler Wooten, Owen Pappoe, and Zakoby McClain have all received really solid reviews and appear to be more mature and seasoned than we may expect.

With the constant pressure from the front four, it may just make the job easier for Auburn’s back end. The Tigers return a ton of experience in the secondary, and should be favored in that particular matchup with the Oregon receivers. While Justin Herbert returns, and while he can make all the throws, he’s got to deal with a group of wideouts that’s been decimated by injury. Oregon’s biggest task on offense was probably going to be finding a way to replace the production of Dillon Mitchell, but the injuries along the skill positions have made that job even more difficult. We’re confident that Auburn’s defense can hold its own, but the most pressing questions will come when the Tigers have the ball.

For the first time in over 70 years, a true freshman is starting his first ever game at Auburn. Bo Nix brings a fully-groomed Auburn legacy to the Plains - DID YOU KNOW HIS DAD IS PATRICK NIX — and steps into a role that he’s prepared for literally his entire football life. Many of us came of age watching Patrick Nix make some of the biggest plays in school hisotry (Nix to Sanders, Pt. I and II), and I’d wager that we’re going to see his son continue that legacy.

There are two schools of thought with Bo Nix getting the starting job. First, you can be a Doom ‘n’ Gloomer, thinking that Joey Gatewood must really suck if he got beat out by Nix. Life must be miserable for you. The correct way to think about it is that Nix came in and was so good that the coaches had no choice but to give the starting job to a true freshman. It’s not quite the kiss of death that it used to be. Clemson destroyed everyone with a true freshman last year, and Alabama’s fortunes turned in the title game two years ago with a freshman. If Nix is the best, he’s the best, but I bet we’ll see Joey Gatewood pretty early in the gameplan.

The other biggest question comes in the form of who’s protecting Nix. Auburn lost its top ten ranking in 2018 largely on the back of an offensive line that couldn’t protect. Injuries and uncertainty in the middle of the line turned production to a low, and protection to a minimum. It’s different this year. There was a turning point at the end of last year with the way the line played. They “gelled” like you hear about, and played some of their best football down the stretch. We all saw exactly what happened, but watching Auburn destroy Purdue sent us into the offseason feeling pretty good.

With seniors across the board, and a full year playing together, if we don’t see improvement, it could be a long season. We should know pretty quickly today how things are going to go. There’s plenty of talent at the skill positions if the protection is there.

...And I mean plenty of talent.

Auburn listed SIX running backs on the official depth chart released earlier this week, and while we know that they all won’t see time against Oregon, we may see many of them. Boobee Whitlow will start, but it seemed like every day a different back was earning praise in fall camp. They all ran hard, and they all had their moments. I would be almost positive we’re going to see Shaun Shivers, Kam Miller, and Harold Joiner in addition to Boobee.

Then on the outside, it’s going to be refreshing as hell to see White Lightning and Eli Stove back on the field. Couple that pair with Seth Williams, who’s turning into a bonafide star at receiver, and add in the fastest player in college football (Anthony Schwartz should play, per reports), and the receivers are an unsung group that could make a bunch of noise this year.

Look, I hate feeling positive about things — it’s not the way I learned to experience Auburn football — but sometimes it’s impossible to quash what I feel in my heart. Today’s a celebration of the return of the best time of the year, and I think that the Tigers are throwing a party tonight in Arlington, Texas.

Control the nerves, hit someone early, and show that last year was just a little blip on the radar. It’s time for odd-year Auburn to emerge and take the college football world by storm.

I can’t wait for tonight, y’all. Football’s back, and I couldn’t be more excited. War Eagle.