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Saturday Spotlight

(11) Oregon Ducks at (16) Auburn Tigers

Oregon: I was able to catch a few of their games in 2018 and I was impressed with what I saw. It’s incredible the difference coaching can make. I saw a team that looked to play with some enthusiasm under Mario Cristobal than they did under Willie Taggart. I’m high on these Ducks from Eugene, Oregon heading into this season. What makes these expectations so bright for me is the return of Justin Herbert, one of the best quarterbacks in college football. He elected to come back for another year when many thought he would be a top draft prospect and top ten pick. He makes this Oregon offense go. What isn’t to like about this kid? He’s athletic, he can move away from pressure, he runs the quarterback bootleg, he can move the pocket to make a pinpoint accurate throw on the spot and he spreads the football around to each of his receivers which is rare to see at the college level so to share the wealth says a lot about him. Also returning is the running back tandem of C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye which will prove balance for this offense. I may sound biased right now, but to win at every level, it starts up front with the “big uglies” otherwise known as the offensive line. I find myself saying that each year but it’s true. An offensive line in my opinion can set the tone. They open lanes for your running back along with protecting the quarterback. Oregon will still have one of the best offensive lines in the country. The university decided to part ways with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. This year, they’ll come in with a new scheme under new defensive coordinator, Andy Avalos who spent the last three seasons at Boise State as their defensive coordinator and linebackers’ coach. As good as they are on offense, the defense struggle to get off the field, make stops and they consistently give up a lot of those big plays down the field. Just imagine if their defense was as consistent as their offense, they’d be the scariest team in the country. Maybe Avalos will get them right and change things up. A new coach can bring change if the players buy into what he wants to do. They’re the favorites to win their division and they kick things off in a neutral-site game at Jerry World tonight against a Auburn team looking to bounce back after a down year in 2018.

Auburn: Just two years ago, they shocked the world by beating Alabama in the Iron Bowl to win the SEC West for the first time since 2013 and made it to the SEC conference title game where they fell short to the Georgia Bulldogs. In 2018, the expectations were slightly elevated once again. They struggled and finished with an 8-5 record in the very competitive SEC. One of the main issues that contributed to their struggles a season ago was the slump in their offense. Back in 2017, they averaged 451 yards per game. Last season, they dropped significantly averaging 389 yards per contest which ranked 79th in total offense. Who does Gus Malzahn turn to know to be his starting quarterback? After two seasons at the university, Jarrett Stidham decided to leave early for the NFL. There are two options to be the starting quarterback. There’s Bo Nix, a five-star recruit who’s expected to be the future of the football program and there’s Joey Gatewood who has all the physical attributes that Malzahn likes. The Tigers have elected to start Nix. He has a strong arm, has the ability to throw the football on the run, he escapes from pressure, hit his receivers in stride and display a toughness in the pocket. Each year when Auburn has been successful, the ground game was always a big part of that. For the first time in a decade, the Tigers didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher due to a struggling offensive line. Speaking of the offensive line, after a full season together, all five starters return, and I think they will improve this season. Their defense is the one bright spot on the team. Defensive tackles Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson both decided to return surprisingly which gives them the best 1-2 defensive punch in the SEC. It won’t be easy to replace Dontavious Russell who was their anchor up front, but Tyrone Truesdell has the talent to do so. The linebacking core will be young as they lost everyone from last season. I thought Deshaun Davis was the Tigers’ best defensive player. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will have to mix things up until he finds a group he can trust. On the back end, Auburn has one of the best safety pairings in their conference in Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson. There will be a lot of changes for this team, but who knows what will happen exactly. It’s a new season for Gus Malzahn and his Tigers. They will kick things off tonight with a game against the Oregon Ducks.

Oregon Player To Watch: Jacob Breeland– He does more than just catch the football. He’s almost used as a sixth offensive lineman in run blocking. As a receiving tight end, he can line up in the stance and Oregon loves to use him in the slot. This is Herbert’s top target in the red area.

Auburn Player To Watch: Nick Coe– He’s one of the best edge rushers in the SEC and in this game against a standout quarterback, he will be needed. His specialty is getting to the quarterback, but he can do more than that. Even without getting into the backfield, he can affect what a quarterback does by making him hesitate before he throws the football.

Final Analysis: The last time these two met, it was for the National Championship in 2011. Auburn had a kid named Cam Newton as their quarterback coming off winning the Heisman Trophy and he closed that season out by leading Auburn to a national title. Chip Kelly was Oregon’s head coach. Typing that made me feel old. Let’s fast forward to this match up. It’s a Heisman candidate against a stingy defense of Auburn. What determines this game is the battle of the trenches. Oregon has a good offensive line and although Auburn lost some pieces, I still expect their defensive front to be consistent. Auburn must run the football early on to help Nix, don’t hesitate to mix your offense up. Intrigue and mystery will be the primary objective for the Tigers offense. Gus Malzahn now takes over as the offensive coordinator which should provide a boost to the offense this year. Although Nix will be key, his supporting cast needs to start fast and play well around him so there isn’t too much pressure on the young freshman. Auburn must keep Herbert in the pocket. He likes to move around and make things happen with his feet. The key for Oregon will be to keep Herbert protected up front. Kevin Steele loves to pressure the quarterback and bring blitzes in late. The Tigers are by far more talented. However, the difference in this game will be the quarterback which Oregon has the advantage with the veteran.

Prediction: Oregon 31 Auburn 26