Game Week is Here!
Tigers get ready for a matchup with the Ducks
War Eagle, everybody! At long last, opening game week is finally here! Saturday evening, Auburn will open the season in Arlington Texas against the Oregon Ducks. It is likely the biggest game in the nation, and the game will be on national television on ABC. Kickoff for this tilt is at 6:30 PM Central Time.
Much has been made of this matchup being decided in the trenches when Oregon has the ball. Obviously, this will be fun to watch, but I am in the minority in that I think the game will be won or lost elsewhere. First-game jitters are a real thing, and I think the team that makes fewer mistakes will have the best chance to win. Auburn cannot afford to come out and play like Miami and Florida did last weekend!
When Oregon has the ball, Auburn simply cannot allow the Ducks to establish a running game. As to the matchup on the line, both teams are really good and veteran. What that means is that you won’t see a lot of blown assignments or guys just getting whipped on either side. Auburn is unlikely to have defensive linemen bursting through in the backfield often as Oregon has a talented bunch up front who have played a lot of snaps together. Conversely, Auburn is powerful up front on defense, and you won’t see Auburn just blown off the ball.
Last season, teams that were able to run successfully on Auburn were able to do it by using the entire width of the field and getting to the edge. The Mississippi State game was the perfect example. Rather than trying to fight through the Auburn defensive line, the Bulldogs largely took the line out of it by getting to the corner and causing misfits with the Auburn linebackers and secondary. Auburn will be staffed at linebacker in this game by guys getting their first starts. I would expect Oregon to try and exploit this. And when Auburn has to bring guys up from the secondary to help contain, there will be opportunities to throw it over the top.
I keep seeing writers referring to Oregon’s offense as “pro-style,” but I don’t see that at all. I see a pistol set with a lot of zone-running concepts. Run-pass options are in there as well as Oregon comes to the line, quarterback Justin Herbert counts defenders in the box and checks to the option that gives the Ducks a numerical advantage. Herbert is a phenomenally strong-armed and accurate quarterback. Not only can he throw it anywhere on the field, he is able to fit the ball into tight windows and “throw open” his receivers.
I think Auburn’s biggest advantage defensively is that Auburn has a veteran, fast and deep secondary. Oregon has been a MASH unit in fall camp at the receiver positions, and 3 projected starters are going to miss the game. Oregon will probably want to lean on Penn State grad transfer Juwan Johnson, who has size, speed and experience. Unfortunately at Penn State, Johnson had issues with dropped passes. That doesn’t bode well for a Duck team that dropped 52 passes last season.
When Auburn has the ball, the issue is going to be blocking assignments. Oregon is moving to a 4-man front this season under new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos. Avalos is known for being able to get pressure and defensive guys loose in the backfield from all angles. The system is predicated on causing chaos. This plays right into an Auburn tendency from the past couple of seasons where guys don’t know whom to block. Auburn must win at the point of attack and establish some sort of running game, otherwise it might be a really rough day for true freshman Tiger quarterback Bo Nix.
Oregon is going to blitz till Auburn counters. The defense is based on producing negative plays, getting the opponent into long yardage situations, and then teeing off on the quarterback.
Last season, Auburn’s version of the hurry-up offense was to hand the ball off up the middle on first down. It worked very poorly, and the Tigers faced a lot of 2nd and 9, or 2nd and 10 situations. Then, Auburn would substitute heavily, and it was often easy to tell what play would be run in long yardage situations by which players came onto the field. One of the things I liked in the Music City bowl against Purdue last year was that there was less situational substituting. I remember one series when Auburn ran orbit motion and gave it to Kam Martin up the middle. Next play, it was the same look. However, Stidham launched the ball over the defense, which had sucked up to play the run. Darius Slayton burned the defense for a 76-yard touchdown.
The biggest advantage Auburn has on offense is the multitude of speedy players the Tigers can use. It remains to be seen if Auburn can get these guys the ball. I think guys like Anthony Schwartz, Shaun Shivers, Will Hastings and Eli Stove are all capable of making big plays, and Auburn needs to creatively get the ball into their hands.
I think special teams will largely be a wash in this game unless balls are fumbled. Special teams are kind of unknowns till the live action starts, and coaches get some full-speed film to study. Both teams have solid kickers and punters, and I think both coaches will be conservative about run backs and coverage. There will be an emphasis by both teams on not letting a bad special teams play cost the game. I’m again reminded of the Miami/Florida game last Saturday. Miami had the advantage, 13–7 and had put 3 scoring drives together. Florida basically had done nothing with the ball except for one long screen pass and run for a score. Then, Miami dropped a punt on its own 5-yard line and gave Florida a cheap touchdown. The game turned on that play, and Florida went on to win.
Here at Track ‘EmTigers.com, we’ll have our usual open thread up and running Saturday morning, and I plan to do my usual play by play during the game. This should be a fantastic day for football! War Eagle, and let’s crush those Ducks!