It’s been almost 250 days since Oregon has played a football game. The anticipation is palpable for the season opener between the No. 11 Ducks and No. 16 Auburn Tigers.
BY THE NUMBERS, STATS AND GAMBLING SPREAD
A win would be Oregon’s first over a ranked team in a season opener since Wisconsin in 2001.
Numbers to know: Oregon brings back 17 positional starters from last year’s nine-win team, which is the fourth most in the nation. On offense the Ducks return 10 starters, including all five offensive linemen. The offensive line has a combined 153 career starts, which is the most in the nation.
Fun fact: A win would give Oregon its first four-game win streak (extending from 2018) since the 2015 season.
Fun fact 2: It’s not Oregon coach Mario Cristobal’s first meeting with Auburn. Cristobal’s record is 3-1 against Gus Malzhan's Tigers during his time as an Alabama assistant.
Betting line: Auburn is favored by 3.5 points.
After beating then-No. 6 Washington, Auburn went 8-5 in 2018. Auburn has one of the toughest 2019 schedules in the nation and Coach Gus Malzahn enters his seventh year as head coach appearing on just about every ‘hot seat’ list in the country. The Tigers offense features true freshman five-star prospect Bo Nix starting at quarterback, three returning rushers, an unproven wide receiving corps and a veteran offensive line.
The daunting Auburn defense and possibly the best defensive line in the country is highlighted by Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, and Nick Coe. The battle won’t stop there. The Tigers’ defensive backs play extremely physical at the line of scrimmage, creating a challenge for Oregon’s largely unproven receiving corps.
The Tigers have ranked inside the top 15 nationally in scoring defense each of the past three seasons, allowing an average of 18.3 points per game over the three seasons.
National Stage: Hello, nation! ESPN’s College GameDay will open the football season on Aug. 31 at Sundance Square in Fort Worth, Texas to preview Oregon vs. Auburn. It marks the 25th time (14-10) in program history that the Ducks have been featured on College GameDay.
KEYS TO AN OREGON WIN
Protect quarterback Justin Herbert: It’s no secret that Auburn’s number one priority is getting consistent pressure on Herbert, who has the rare talent to take over the game. Both teams would like to lay claim to having the best offensive and defensive lines in the country. The Ducks return all five offensive lineman for a combined 153 career starts, which is the most in the nation. UO will need all that experience and for UO’s running backs to show their pass blocking improvements vs. Auburn.
"I think that is going to be a huge key,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He can make all the throws and he's got really good receivers to throw to, so you've got to make him uncomfortable… we need to win the line of scrimmage.”
Capitalize on freshman mistakes: Nix, a former five-star prospect and top-rated dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 class, is not your average freshman. In his first ever game under the college football lights (in an NFL stadium), if he does make any errors, the Ducks must make the Tigers pay. A Duck pick-six could be the difference in this expected low-scoring game. Winning the turnover battle is key; The Tigers are 19-5 when they play turnover-free football under Malzahn.
Strike early: Coming off a less-than-exciting offensive performance in Oregon’s 7-6 Redbox Bowl vs. Michigan State, early execution to get in the end zone would greatly benefit the Ducks. Question marks have revolved around UO’s receivers for almost nine months after the departure of leading receiver Dillon Mitchell to the NFL. A big catch from starting wide receivers Juwan Johnson, Johnny Johnson III, or Jaylon Redd would calm the team and put Auburn on its heels. Running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye can’t give up against the Tigers that allowed only 3.7 yards per carry last season.
[READ: Oregon running back Travis Dye’s spin move isn’t his only weapon]
TIGERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
DT Derrick Brown, DE Marlon Davidson and DL Nick Coe
Auburn’s defensive front returns all three starters that combined for 14 sacks last season. The Tigers trio is projected 2020 first round draft selections and has set a goal to allow only 3.3 yards per carry this season.
“They’re as physical and as impressive as you can see,” said Cristobal.
Oregon preseason All-American Shane Lemieux couldn’t compare Auburn’s to any he’s seen in his career. Lemieux said Washington, Utah, and Stanford feature physical defensive fronts, they’re not “even close” to what the Ducks are going to see against Brown, Davidson and Coe.
RB JaTarvious "Boobie" Whitlow
Malzahn listed six running backs on his week one depth chart and although he feels “confident that they could all possibly play.” Whitlow will be the first Tigers on the field. Auburn operates a run heavy attack and in his freshman campaign last season, Whitlow led the Tigers with 150 carries for 787 yards and six touchdowns.
HOW AND WHERE TO WATCH
Time: Saturday, Aug. 31, 4:44 p.m PT
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Tune in: Oregon IMG Sports Network
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