Gus Malzahn and his Auburn Tigers are coming off a somewhat disappointing 2018 in which they finished 8-5, but capped off their season with a resounding 63-14 Music City Bowl victory over Purdue. So maybe that was a sign that better things are ahead in 2019.
The Tigers number 1 priority right now is finding a starting quarterback who can run the offense effectively and be a playmaker in time for the opener against a potential top 10 team in the Oregon Ducks which return their 4th year starting quarterback, Justin Herbert who is 6’6”, 237 and has led the Ducks to 38.3 points per game over his 28 career starts. He’s stellar, could be a Heisman candidate, and will be a potential first round draft pick. Herbert threw for 29 TDs against 8 interceptions completing 240 of 404 passes, 59%, for 3,151 yards in 2018 in leading the Ducks to a 9-4 mark and 5-4 in the PAC 12. They defeated Michigan State 7-6 in an ugly RedBox Bowl in Santa Clara, CA, but they got momentum from that and a lot of optimism for 2019. And Coach Mario Cristobal has 8 starters returning on offense and 6 on defense. It’s a defense that is much improved and Cristobal also secured the No.7 recruiting class in the country in 2019, according to both Rivals and 247 Sports. So they’re formidable. The Advocare Classic game from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. pitting the Tigers and the Ducks will kickoff at 6:30 PM CT Saturday, August 31st, and will be televised by ABC.
The contenders for the Tigers for the top spot at quarterback are redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix. Gatewood was a 6.0, 4 star by Rivals and a 97, 4 star by 247. He’s 6’5”, 235 from Jacksonville, FL. has a cannon for an arm and great wheels. Accuracy is the only area Gatewood needs to improve on. He has all the physical tools. Bo Nix was a consensus 5 star in the 2019 class and has all the assets needed to be a stellar college quarterback and take it to the next level. He’s 6’2”, 204 from Pinson Valley High School here in Birmingham where he accounted for over 12,000 total yards and 161 TD passes in his decorated high school career. They were both outstanding in the spring game. Nix was 11 of 14 for 155 yards and 2 TDs, and Gatewood was 7 of 10 for 123 yards and 2 TDs. Personally, I like Nix a little better. He’s just so accurate and is an exceptional leader. He can also run well. He’s fast. Gatewood is very good, but from watching them battle it out in the spring, I liked Nix a little more. They’ll battle it out again starting this week as fall practice commences. You never know but whichever one doesn’t win the job, may look at transferring. That seems to be the landscape these days even though the 2nd string player is just one play away from being the starter, which should resonate with these guys. Anyway, it should be a compelling competition this August for the top job at QB. And that No.1 quarterback that emerges will have to be game ready by the time August 31st gets here even though both have little to no game day experience in college football. Should be quite a storyline in August.
There’s always excellent talent at Auburn and this year’s defense looks to have all the tools to excel and set the tone for this team , getting the Tigers to possibly double digits victories if they can navigate their demanding schedule and stay healthy. Potential All American and potential top 5 2020 draft pick Derrick Brown returns at defensive tackle. Brown, a 6’5”, 318 senior, posted 10 1/2 tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks in 2018 and dominated the spring game. He’ll be a load for opposing o linemen to contend with this fall. He’s a game changer for the Tigers up front. He’ll be joined by standout defensive ends Marlon Davidson, 6’3”, 278, and Nick Coe , 6’5”, 291. Coe was second on the team in tackles for loss last year with 13 1/2 and led the team in sacks posting 7. Both Davidson and Coe will bookend Brown and noseguard Tyrone Truesdell, 6’2”, 310, and there is depth. I really like T.D. Moultry, a 6’2”, 243 outside linebacker, Buck position, kind of a hybrid linebacker, defensive end. Moultry was all over the field in the spring game. He’ll be a force for the Tigers. Malzahn is high on K.J. Britt (6’0”, 235) at middle linebacker and Chandler Wooten (6’2”, 228) and Zakony McClain (6’0”, 210) at outside linebackers. Depth at linebacker could be an issue. 5 star freshman Owen Pappoe (6’0'“,210) may be relied on if there are some injuries.
In the secondary, there is talent and experience returning. The Tigers posted 14 interceptions in 2018, and corners Noah Igbinoghene and Javaris Davis return along with nickelback Christian Tutt and safeties Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas. All are juniors and seniors except for Tutt, who is a sophomore. Tutt got some valuable experience last season though. Davis, Dinson and Thomas each had 2 ints last season. Thomas is a ball hawk.
So the defense looks pretty spectacular. On offense around the quarterback, tailback Boobie Whitlow returns to lead the rushing attack. Whitlow rushed for 787 yards and 6 TDs and added 15 receptions and 2 TDs last year. He was banged up a little, but is full go for the season. Behind Whilow are senior Cam Martin, sophomore speedster Shaun Shivers and talented 4 star freshman D.J. Williams who was impressive in the spring game. On the perimeter, Eli Stove and Will Hastings return from injuries and they’ll be key guys, along with the spectacular Seth Williams and blazer Anthony Schwartz. Williams caught 26 passes for 534 yards and 5 TDs last season and really came on late in the year. Schwartz pulled in 22 passes for 357 yards and 2 TDs and he also ran for 5 TDs on reverses. Both are game changing players. Stove and Hastings bring back leadership and talent to the receiving corps. Redshirt freshman Matthew Hill had an excellent spring game and looks to be a key guy in the receiving mix as well. The o line has 5 seniors starting and good depth behind them. Auburn goes about 10 tp 12 deep on the o line with quality. They struggled last year keeping Jarrett Stidham, who was a 4th round selection by the New England Patriots, upright, but left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho (6’7”, 305), right guard Mike Horton, 6’4”, 325, left guard Marquel Harrell, 6’3”, 309, center Kaleb Kim, 6’4”, 300, and right tackle Jack Dricoll, 6’5”, 296, should be a stout offensive front, and there is depth as mentioned above.
Anders Carlson returns to kick and after only converting 15 of 25 field goals last season, he put together a solid spring and was a heralded high school kicker and should rebound in his sophomore season. Arryn Siposs is the punter and he was booming it in the spring game. Christian Tutt and Matthew Hill are the leaders at punt returner heading into August and Noah Igbinoghene , Whitlow and Shivers are the leaders at kick returners. Pretty dynamic players in the return game.
It’s a tough one.
The Tigers open with Oregon, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas in the Advocare Classic Saturday, Aug 31st, 6:30 PM CT ABC. Huge opener. Vegas opened with Auburn favored by 6 1/2, but the line has dropped to 3. The Tigers then host Tulane, Saturday, 9-7, at 6:30 PM CT on ESPN2, then Kent State comes to Jordan-Hare on 9-14 at 6 PM CT on the deuce or duh U. A huge trip to College Station follows as the Tigers face Texas A&M on Saturday, Sept. 21st. We’ll know a lot about Auburn after that game. Mississippi State comes to Auburn on Saturday, 9-28. On Saturday, Oct. 5th, the Tigers are @ Florida in a huge challenge, then they’re off on Oct. 12th, then are @ Arkansas, Sat. Oct. 19th. Then @ LSU, Saturday, Oct. 26th. Wow. Tighten those chin straps, both teams. Ole Miss at home, Saturday, Nov. 2nd, off Nov. 9th, then the Georgia Bulldogs come to the Plains for Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry on Saturday, Nov. 16th. That will be the 124th edition with the Dawgs holding a 59-56-8 advantage and winning the game last year between the Hedges, 27-10. Should be a classic with potentially a lot on the line both in the SEC and National picture. Auburn hosts Samford on Saturday, Nov. 23rd, and the Crimson Tide comes to Auburn on Saturday, Nov. 30th, most likely a 2:30 PM CT game on CBS.
So, wow, the schedule is daunting. Staying healthy is at a premium. Oregon at a neutral site, @ A&M, State at home, not easy though very winnable, @ Florida, @LSU, Georgia and Alabama at home, that’s a tough one. This team has the talent to win double digit games, but they’ll have to pull off 2 or 3 upsets to do it. Defeating Oregon in game 1 is priority number 1. @A&M, @Florida and even @LSU are possible victories. Georgia and Alabama are at home, so that really helps the Tigers’ chances. It could be 8-4. Or if could be 10-2 with a New Year’s Six Bowl if it’s an outstanding season. Getting to the SEC Championship and the playoff will be challenging with this schedule. Either Nix or Gatewood HAVE to come through. I like Nix to take the reins. He gives the Tigers a better chance to have a special season in my opinion, though Gatewood has very good talent. My call is Bo Nix. Gus and 29 year old new offensive coordinator Ken Dillingham, from Memphis where he excelled coaching quarterbacks, will start one against Oregon and have the other one ready in case the first guy struggles. Gus will be calling plays, so that’ll be very interesting. Big year for Gus Malzahn. Maybe make or break. The talent is there to excel. The schedule makes it tough though, so the quarterback will have to execute well and both trenches will have to be strong and physical every Saturday to give this team a chance for a highly successful season.