All Duck fans are holding their breath in anticipation of the season opener against Auburn, an SEC team considered a national contender and perhaps a team that has heard a bit too much about Oregon’s big, physical football team.
Watch the battle in the trenches along the line of scrimmage as Oregon’s offensive line, dubbed arguably the best in college football, collides with Auburn’s mighty defensive front. Coach Mario Cristobal’s group is coming off a 37-yard rushing performance against Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl.
The Tigers have heard enough of the physicality the Ducks are so proud of and will be determined to sustain the mystic standing of the SEC, a hallucinogenic fog that has overcome college football.
Interesting matchups besides the big boys up front: quarterback Justin Herbert, a Heisman Trophy candidate, vs. Bo Nix, a highly touted freshman making his first start. Nix can run the option and throws a deep ball. So can Herbert. The question is, will Cristobal take off the brakes that hindered Herbert and the offense last season?
Watch the play calling of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn vs. Cristobal and offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo. Malzahn is known as an aggressive, creative offensive force while the Ducks have been described as boring and predictable — a defensive coordinator’s dream come true. After years of leading the Pac-12 in innovative offense, Oregon is coming off a season as pedestrian.
Oregon’s road record the past three years has been poor (5-14) and, surprise, playing Auburn in Texas is not a neutral site. The Tigers may have an edge on defense, but the Ducks have a new coordinator in Andy Avalos, who has blended the front seven and secondary in creative ways lacking last season. There is much more talent on defense this year and it will be a test to see if they can stand up to a versatile offense that features a pounding run game and a quarterback who can run and throw deep.
The team whose quarterback plays the best and shines in the second half of the game, where Herbert has not had his greatest success, will win this game.
On paper, Cristobal’s crew has a lot to look forward to; this is the most talent the Ducks have had in many years. If you had to first-game an SEC team, it would have been beneficial to have it in home territory. The Tigers have the edge in muscle and experience. Let’s see if Herbert can overcome that Saturday.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years. He conducts a weekly coach’s corner from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the 6th Street Grill.