There is a lot of preseason hype surrounding Auburn’s defensive line, which is loaded with first-round NFL talent.
Oregon’s defense is anchored by junior nose tackle Jordon Scott, who will graduate after the fall term with an eye on entering the 2020 draft.
Shane Lemieux, the Ducks’ four-year starter at left guard, said another veteran defensive linemen is prepared to shine on the big stage when 11th-ranked Oregon opens the season against No. 16 Auburn on Saturday at AT&T Stadium (4:30 p.m., ABC).
“Austin Faoliu,” Lemieux said after Tuesday’s practice. “He hasn't been up to Jordon’s kind of famous mark here, but I think he's playing in a scheme that he really feels like he fits well in. He’s really able to rush the passer well. He’s an explosive, twitchy guy.”
Faoliu is listed as the co-starter at defensive tackle with senior Drayton Carlberg. The 6-foot-3, 293-pound junior had 64 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks, over the past two seasons playing alongside his classmate Scott in Jim Leavitt’s defense.
Several upperclassmen, including senior defensive end Gus Cumberlander and senior “stud” linebacker Bryson Young, have been given new football life under first-year defensive coordinator Andy Avalos.
“I remember I went against Boise State with coach Avalos’ defense. I know they had a lot of guys like Austin Faoliu who really thrived in that defense,” Lemieux said of Oregon’s loss to the Broncos in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl. “Austin's a quiet guy. He’s not an outspoken guy, he’s not really on Twitter or anything like that kind of stuff. So a lot of fans don't see him.
“He hasn't ever put in as much work as he did this last offseason. No one really sees the work you put in. The way he's worked is really good and sets him up for a good season.”
Bo Nix will be the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener for Auburn since Travis Tidwell in 1946.
In 2016, Justin Herbert was the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Oregon since Chris Miller in 1983.
It was a painful debut for Herbert as the Ducks’ 12-game winning streak over rival Washington ended with a 70-21 loss at Autzen Stadium.
“The first start is always tough because you haven't played college football yet, and personally when I went in, I wasn't adjusted to the speed and it was really tough for me,” Herbert said. “I kind of had to work my way through it.
“Bo Nix is a really talented guy, and I'm sure he won’t have any any trouble adjusting the game speed.”
Auburn’s rabid fan base is hoping Nix, a five-star recruit, can lead the Tigers to a national championship as Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (2017) and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (2018) did as true freshmen.
“I’m just asking him to play, to be himself, and we are going to try and do some things he is comfortable with,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said at his press conference this week. “We are taking in a game plan that is really built around him and his comfort zone and everything that goes with it.”
Oregon has won seven consecutive season openers, all at Autzen Stadium, dating back to the 2011 loss to LSU at AT&T Stadium. … The Ducks are 88-31-4 all-time in openers with a 20-23-21 mark against Power 5 programs. … A win would be Oregon’s first over a ranked team in an opener since a 31-28 victory over Wisconsin in 2001.
“It was a tough game to watch,” Herbert said of his childhood memory of Oregon’s excruciating 22-19 loss to Auburn in the BCS national championship game. “I was really fired up to watch the game and excited for the Ducks. It was too bad they couldn't pull away. …
“Yeah, I was pretty sad. I was I was a huge fan, and it kind of ruined my week.”