AUBURN, Ala. (WSFA) - It’s game week for several teams across the FBS landscape and that includes the No. 16 Auburn Tigers. The Tigers have spent fall camp going up against each other day after day but come Saturday, they’ll finally be able to hit someone in a different uniform for the first time since late December.
“We’re real excited it’s game week. The game has come up upon us,” said head coach Gus Malzahn.
Auburn’s first opponent? The No. 11 Oregon Ducks.
“You look at Oregon and we’re playing one of the top teams in the country – one of the most experienced teams if not the most experienced team in the country,” said Malzahn.
Oregon is led by Heisman hopeful quarterback Justin Herbert, but it’s not just Hebert who jumps out on tape on the offensive side of the ball for the Ducks.
“You look at their offense, it starts with their quarterback. He is well-deserved as one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He can make all the throws and keep plays alive. Their two running backs – I’m very impressed with those guys. Their wide receivers come down with the 50-50 balls quite a bit and of course, their offensive line is the most experienced offensive line in the country. It will be a good test for our defense,” said Malzahn.
Last season Herbert threw for over 3,100 yards and 29 touchdowns while rushing for two more scores. He could’ve been one of the top picks in the 2019 NFL Draft before returning to Eugene for his senior season, and could very well be one of the first names off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft. Malzahn says it’ll be huge if Auburn’s talented defensive line can apply pressure constantly and make Herbert uncomfortable.
“I think that is going to be a huge key. He can make all the throws and he’s got really good receivers to throw to, so you’ve got to make him uncomfortable,” said Malzahn. “I think that is going to be a big key. Like I said really in the opening -- the line of scrimmage -- you know we need to win the line of scrimmage.”
While Auburn’s defense will focus on making one quarterback wearing No. 10 uncomfortable, Malzahn will spend the opening moments of Auburn’s offensive possessions making his No. 10 at quarterback as comfortable as possible. That’s freshman Bo Nix, who is making his debut in the home of the Dallas Cowboys with millions of eyes watching as the Tigers take the field on national television.
“You are talking about a true freshman whose first start is against one of the best teams in the country. College Gameday is going to be there and Kirk Herbstreit is going to be calling the game; it’s as big as it’s going to get. We need to be really good around him; that has been our message,” said Malzahn.
But just because it’s Nix’s first game and he wants to make sure he settles in, Malzahn says that doesn’t mean he’s going to ease up with his playcalling.
"I don’t think going against one of the top teams in the country you can just be conservative. I think there is a fine line to try to put Bo Nix in comfortable situations. We are going to have to be balanced to try and win against one of the top teams in the country,” said Malzahn.
Malzhan said receiver Anthony Schawrtz’s playing status could be a game-time decision, but Nix will still have several options in junior Eli Stove, sophomore Seth Williams and even senior running back Kam Martin out of the backfield among other targets.
Overall, though, Gus Malzahn just wants his team to play their brand of football and to make Auburn fans and alumni proud.
“This season, we want to make our fans proud, our former players proud with the way we play, that hard-nosed, physical, disciplined, good Auburn football. That’s been our message and that won’t just be our message this first game, but all season,” said Malzahn.
Malzahn says this will be a good measuring stick for his team to see where they’re at. The Tigers and the Ducks kick things off from Dallas at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Their matchup will be televised on ABC.