Auburn opens up the college football season with a barnburner of a game against Washington in Atlanta. It is a matchup of top 10 teams, with the winner planting an early flag as a team to watch in regards to the College Football Playoff this fall.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Don’t let the venue be a problem
Playing at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium is supposed to be a positive thing. This is not a venue that is regularly on the schedule, it is a special occasion place, a stadium where winning matters. The problem is that Auburn has not been able to win in this Atlanta super venue.
This will actually be the Tigers third straight game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a quirk of scheduling that seems like it would be unlikely to ever happen again. A loss in the SEC title game (28-7) to Georgia was followed up by a 34-27 embarrassment to UCF in the Peach Bowl. A loss to Washington – the third such loss at a neutral site venue – would see Auburn on the wrong side of history.
Sometimes trends like this can weigh on players. The hope is that these games have come so quickly – and they each game has been under such different circumstances – that it is nothing more than bad luck at this point. With this being the site of the SEC title game it is important that the Atlanta hoodoo gets shut down quickly.
Shut down the Washington offense
The Huskies’ offense is both good and proven. Washington returns eight starters on that side of the ball from a team that won 10 games in 2017. Throw in nine starters returning on defense and you can see why Washington is seen as the Pac-12 favorite in 2018.
It is the offense that will worry Auburn the most. Jake Browning once threw for an insane 91 touchdowns in one high school season and he has already thrown 78 scores for the Huskies. Alongside Browning in the backfield is running back Myles Gaskin – the returning All-Pac-12 selection at his position – who has never rushed for less than 1,000 yards in a season and who has the program’s rushing touchdown record with 41. You can easily make the argument that this is the best backfield tandem in the history of Washington football.
Losing Dante Pettis at wide receiver is blow that Washington will have to overcome, but there is still talent at wide out. The Auburn defense will have to work hard to pressure Browning, while still making sure to shut down any rushing lanes that Gaskin could exploit.
Find a way to beat the Washington secondary
There will be mouthwatering clashes all over the field on Saturday, but perhaps none will be as intriguing – or as pivotal – as the matchup of the Auburn wide receivers against the Washington secondary. This pits an experienced and battle tested wide receiver corps against a highly touted secondary that is looking to make an impact on the national stage.
Any secondary returning two all-conference selections at safety is going to have a good reputation, with Washington boasting All-Pac-12 choices Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh at the position. Add in Brandon Miller and Jordan Miller at the cornerback spots and you have a secondary that is stunningly hard to move the ball against.
Washington allowed just 10 touchdowns through the air last season and it will be up to Jarrett Stidham to solve the complexity of the 3-3-5 and 2-4-5 defenses that will be thrown his way. Attacking in the intermediate ranges – through Nate Craig-Meyers and Darius Slayton specifically – will be the key to cracking the multilayered defense.