Game of the Week: Auburn vs Washington
After what felt like an eternity of an offseason, college football fans will finally have their thirst quenched with a full slate of week-one action on the gridiron. A weekend riddled with cupcakes matched up with powerhouses, the game of the week has got to be No. 6 Washington vs. No. 9 Auburn.
The Huskies will travel to the east coast to take on Auburn in the neutral venue of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia for the annual Chik-Fil-A kickoff. Even though the game won’t take place in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is less than two hours away from Auburn's campus.
This game is absolutely huge for the outlook of the Huskies' season. Since Washington avoids USC this season, the only other notable games for the Huskies are when they travel to Oregon and when they play Stanford at home.
Similar to 2016, it appears as if Washington would have to run the table and walk into bowl season undefeated as Pac-12 champions in order to be granted a College Football Playoff berth. The congestion at the top of both the SEC and the Big Ten makes it near certain that one of those conferences will get two teams into the CFP. Although these scenarios are to be played out in a couple months from now, it is important to note how vital such an early game is for the Huskies.
The Huskies return nine defensive starters, including their entire secondary. The only glaring hole to replace on the Washington defense will be defensive tackle Vita Vea, who passed on his senior year for the NFL.
The Huskies have the depth in the trenches to minimize the damage from Vea’s departure. The defensive front will now be led by Greg Gaines, a lineman who can play all three positions on the defensive front. Gaines will be returning from a pectoral muscle injury, which may impact his play during week one.
Auburn, itself, is returning a powerful force on the defensive side of the ball.
The Tigers have high hopes for their defensive performance this year as junior defensive end Marlon Davidson stated “We’re going to be top 5, maybe even top 1. That’s how we feel. That’s how we’re going to carry it,” in regards to their defensive ranking nation-wide.
Auburn’s defensive prowess even drew out praise from Washington’s head coach Chris Petersen.
"I look at Auburn on defense and it seems very Alabama-ish to me,” Peterson stated, “It's that physical style, that really athletic, they don't give you anything, you got to earn everything, they're fast, all those things. That seems really, really similar."
With absolutely no key departures on the defensive side of the ball, Auburn’s stout defensive front will be headlined by 5-star DT Derrick Brown, who many have marveled at this player’s rare talent.
On the offensive side of the ball, Washington returns its veteran offensive line, its QB Jake Browning, and its RB Myles Gaskin. The senior duo of Gaskin and Browning have butted heads in the past, yet have the potential to do some great things in their final seasons. Facing an incredibly skilled defense, Browning will be tested early in this out-of-conference matchup.
Browning boasted a remarkable 68.5% completion percentage throwing for 19 TDs and only 5 INTs in his 2017 season. In 2017, Gaskin averaged 6.2 YPR and scored 21 TDs on his end.
For Auburn, head coach Gus Malzahn returns his dual-threat QB Jarrett Stidham. Stidham is believed to be near the top of the 2019 QB draft boards due to his rocket-arm and mobility out of the pocket. Such attributes make Stidham very difficult to simulate during Washington’s scout teams.
Auburn has had trouble protecting Stidham in the pocket, however. Last season Auburn allowed 2.57 sacks per game, the 100th best in the nation. They have got to improve if they want to compete against this dangerous Washington team.
In the backfield, Kam Martin got a lot of experience due to the injuries to Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway last year. He will share carries with JaTarvious Whitlow who looks to be primed to take over the RB1 spot.
In virtually a home game in Atlanta, I see Stidham having a statement game that shows he is a Heisman contender on such a big stage. I see the Auburn offensive line struggle early, but make the necessary adjustments at half-time to give Stidham the time to create big plays when it counts.
Jake Browning will struggle to get going throughout the game and Myles Gaskin will have to shoulder most of the offense. Derrick Brown will show why he is so highly touted talent.
Auburn will take down Washington in a barn burner.
Prediction: Auburn 28, Washington 24
Christian Katt is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him via email, cjk5620@psu or Twitter @ckatt2.