Today, the 9th ranked Auburn Tigers will return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the third time in less than a year to take on the 6th ranked Washington Huskies. For the Huskies, this will be their first-ever big-money neutral-site, kickoff game. Meanwhile, Auburn is no stranger to tough opening games. Last year, Auburn traveled to then-national champion Clemson and previously hosted DeShaun Watson’s Tigers in 2016. The game will mark the first-ever meeting between the schools.
“You play the schedule that you’ve been given,” Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn said in a recent news conference. “Washington is one of the best teams in the country. They’re as good as advertised on defense, and offensively they have a bunch of weapons.
“It’s a good test for where we’re at, and it should be a good one.”
Auburn has yet to win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after losing to Georgia last December in the Southeastern Conference championship game and to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day.
In order for Washington to have success today, the Huskies will have to contain Auburn’s front seven and their offensive line must protect Heisman Trophy candidate Jake Browning. Washington’s running back Myles Gaskin, is an AP preseason first team All-American, has rushed for 4,055 career yards, most among all returning FBS players and just 51 yards shy of the program record. He’s topped 1,300 rushing yards in each of his three seasons and is vying to become the 10th player in FBS history to run for 1,000 yards in four seasons.
“When you see his game, you could tell he’s more of an aggressive runner than people actually think,” Auburn linebacker Deshaun Davis said. “On paper, you think he’s more of a speed guy. He has speed, but Washington runs a lot of power. They run the counter game really well.”
Auburn’s defense has one of the more intimidating fronts in the SEC. That fact was not lost on Washington’s Nick Harris. The offensive lineman started his first game of his career in the College Football Playoff semifinal against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Georgia Dome. He admitted in a press conference this week that he got manhandled.
“It’s as much mental as it is physical,” Harris said this week. “Obviously, I’ve gained weight. Obviously, I’ve played more. That stage was a lot for me. I had just turned 18 before the game. I was barely out of high school playing against guys about to go in the NFL. It was like a shocking moment.
“But now, playing in those types of games, it’s more of a relaxed focus when I go into those games. It’s about trying to be assignment perfect and communicating, rather than me just worrying so much. That’s how I was: just worrying every play. I’ve realized it’s OK to make mistakes; you just have to make sure you’re going full speed and making sure everyone’s on the same page.”
As for Auburn’s aforementioned front seven, watch out for Sophomore Nick Coe. The Auburn coaches believe Coe will be their leading pass rusher this season and hopes to fill the shoes of the departed Jeff Holland, who led Auburn with 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss last season.
“Nick Coe is a big, long, powerful guy that can run,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said during fall camp. “He’s more of a traditional, stand-up outside backer in the NFL mode – a run-stopper that can do what he needs to do in pass.”
Senior Dontavius Russell will start at defensive tackle next to the emerging junior Derrick Brown. Marlon Davidson is at defensive end, ready for more after an injury-plagued 2017.
The Washington-Auburn game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT and will air live on ABC.