The bad news is that the Huskies are going to need some help to win this game. The good news is that Jarrett Stidham is just the kind of quarterback to give them some. Stidham is a talented guy with great arm strength and the kind of size that NFL teams drool over. But I think he lacks the quickness to damage the Huskies with his feet the way Trace McSorley did in the Fiesta Bowl. It’s unknown if Stidham has progressed from his one-read-and-done pocket awareness. If he has in fact matured in that area it will make him much more difficult to defend.
The big question for the Huskies on offense is how well the offensive line can hold their own against a very good Auburn front seven. If Myles Gaskin is unable to find running room, Chris Petersen will look to get him the ball in the receiving game. After offensive struggles in the Peach Bowl two years ago, I fully expect Petersen and OC Bush Hamdan to have a plan to get the ball out quickly and try to get Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed involved outside the tackles.
The Huskies will need to take care of the ball and force turnovers to win this game. I think Stidham gives them at least two.
Washington- 36, Auburn- 33 (OT)
Most of my feelings about this game echo the same concerns that have popped up in UW’s toughest games during Petersen’s tenure. Even though I’m a strong Browning supporter, I fear that there’s only so much he can do against an elite defensive line until his receivers prove they can get separation. Similarly, the success on the running game depends on the O-line’s ability to hold their own against the type of defensive front that has stymied them repeatedly. On the other side of the ball, I expect the Dawg defense to play extremely well, but Auburn’s run game will put at least a TD or two on the board.
If I’m wrong, I think it will be because the offense broke a couple of big plays against Auburn’s less experienced secondary. I hope that one of our emerging receivers has a breakout game. Any of Fuller, Jones, McClatcher, or Pounds could swing the game in our favor if they can beat their coverage repeatedly. Until I see that happen consistently, I’m not comfortable predicting it will happen.
Washington- 13, Auburn- 20
Washington is currently 1-8 all time vs. the SEC. History is not our side, and heading across the country for Game 1 in what will be a decidedly pro-Auburn crowd will be a challenge. That, combined with Washington looking pretty rusty in all openers under Petersen (except Rutgers at home in 2016, who were probably the worst P5 in CFB) has me feeling not very optimistic for this game. Granted, Auburn has their own history of shaky starts in week 1; Clemson the last two years, beating 8-win Louisville by one TD in 2015, and who could forget squeaking by a bad WSU team in 2013. They of course went on to play in the National Championship game that year, but they did not look great in Week 1.
If Washington is going to win this game, the offensive line has to be the best unit on the field for both teams. They’ll have a monumental challenge facing a deep and athletic crew up front for Auburn, and how Trey Adams plays in his return to health, how Nick Harris adjusts to his move to center, and how new starters at guard turn out, will decide this game. If they can give Myles Gaskin some running room and Jake Browning a few opportunities to stand and deliver, the offense will have some success. Salvon Ahmed making a big play or two would do wonders to soften up the coverage. I expect Bush Hamdan will likely try to get him involved horizontally at first to get Auburn’s big DL running, then use him to attack vertically.
The way SEC defenses play will put a lot of pressure on the WRs to beat press coverage - expect to see the safeties and corners brought up close to the of scrimmage. It will be up to players like Aaron Fuller to make big third-down catches. Will Ty Jones establish himself as the big downfield threat this offense has lacked? How do the TEs like Drew Sample and Cade Otton affect the passing game, either blocking or catching? Answering those questions will be key.
Defensively Washington should do pretty well, but stopping the run will be difficult. Auburn loves to run power with pulling guards, but use ample “window dressing” to confuse defenses. Discipline will be key, along with guys like Jaylen Johnson remaining healthy and Levi Onwuzurike building on the promise of his freshman season. In the back end, I like our DBs to blow up screen passes but I can see Auburn getting a long touchdown from a guy like Ryan Davis. A player like Taylor Rapp will likely be moved around the secondary and brought on blitzes to confuse Jarrett Stidham, who can be mistake-prone. Ryan Bowman and Benning Potoa’e need to get in his face as much as possible. Auburn is breaking in two new tackles, including a part-time starter last year who really struggled, and this is a huge opportunity for the sack-by-committee approach to really shine.
Ultimately I see a low-scoring, defensive struggle with a few big plays deciding it and both defenses coming to play. However, I think Washington’s offensive struggles against elite defenses will hurt them yet again. I expect Auburn to struggle in Week 1, and their OL could be as much a liability as ours. But until I see it against a big-time opponent, I’m not sure we have enough on the offensive line to weather the pressure, and the athletes at WR to make enough 50/50 catches.
One of Gaskin/Ahmed will break a long touchdown, Peyton Henry makes his first field goal, and the secondary gets a pick. The final TD for UW will be Jake Browning to Aaron Fuller on a well executed inside-to-outside slant.
Washington-17, Auburn- 21
The Huskies will win a close game led by their defense, which should be able to keep Stidham in check. Auburn will have several new starters on their line and UW should be able to generate some pressure to force Stidham into some mistakes. This will be a close game that is ultimately decided by the turnover margin, which I see UW winning.
Washington- 28, Auburn- 21
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more crucial game that in the long run doesn’t mean anything. On the one hand the reputation of the entire Pac-12 is at stake. Should Washington get blown out on the heels of a 1-8 bowl game slate it would give the rest of the country the excuse they desperately seek to ignore the Western half of the United States for the next three months.
On the other hand, a loss in this game would not prevent the Huskies from achieving any of their goals. It has literally a 0% impact on the hunt for another Pac-12 title. If your goal is the College Football Playoff then it takes away any margin for error, but a close loss in a psuedo-road game against a Top 10 opponent won’t reflect poorly in the eyes of the selection committee.
Nonetheless, I know that the delta between the emotional well-being of the UW fan base with a win versus a loss is enormous. The irrational side of my brain is screaming at me that the Huskies need to win this game to validate the Chris Petersen era. I’m just not so sure they will.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Husky offense under Jake Browning is that things don’t go well against a defensive line filled with premium talent. I foresee plenty of Jake looping and retreating 15 yards back before heaving the ball out of bounds.
But I don’t think the Auburn offense fares substantially better on the other end. The Tigers love to get the ball to playmakers near the line of scrimmage and rely on YAC. The Husky DB unit under Jimmy Lake has been exceptional at integrity in that phase of the game and I trust that they’ll be ready to make open-field tackles despite it being the first chance for live reps at 100% full speed.
It feels like it could come down to the kicking game, and while I expect improvement, I’m not so sure I feel great relying upon a walk-on redshirt freshman to win the game for us. I don’t know if this is just me trying to lower expectations so I’m less crushed in the event of a loss, but here it is.
Washington- 17, Auburn- 20
I hate big games because I hate making predictions about big games because the threat of losing is too real and I hate it. Hate it I say.
Regardless of the outcome, the fact is that most of the components of this game are strength-on-strength and weakness-on-weakness: Auburn’s dominant D-line versus UW’s experienced (yet inconsistent) O-line, UW’s inexperienced yet potentially high-ceiling receivers versus Auburn’s similarly inexperienced but talented secondary and, on the flip-side, Auburn’s highly experienced and talented receiving corps versus UW’s high experience, high talent secondary. If there’s one thing I’m tentatively optimistic about, it’s UW’s D-line against an offensive line that can generously be referred to as...bad last year (although on the other hand, I’m slightly worried about the depth of interior gap-stuffers behind Greg Gaines, and am certain their defensive line is better than Washington’s offensive counterpart, so...).
The last time I remember being this back-and-forth on a game was Stanford in 2016. My gut was pretty sure of losses to Penn State and obviously Alabama, and that turned out pretty well, no? But this Auburn team is better than those Cardinal and, physically, the Huskies are mostly underdogs. The performance of the receivers and interior offensive line I believe determines whether the offense can do what’s necessary to win; last year, along with Jake Browning’s recovery from a shoulder injury and his naturally less-than-cannon arm, any possible zip on his mid-range throws was really damaged by the fact that the guards would frequently get pushed around, giving Browning little to no pocket to step into. For someone like Sam Darnold or Josh Allen that’s fine, but for Browning...well, we’ve had this discussion ad nauseam, so I’ll shut up. Luckily, whatever the combination of Henry Roberts, Luke Wattenberg, and Jaxson Kirkland, and with Nick Harris moved to his more natural center role, the guards should be an upgrade from last year when Harris and Jesse Sosebee often got stuffed against higher-level competition. Still though, you’d be an idiot to not say that Auburn D-line is terrifying.
On the defensive side, I’m obviously much more optimistic, although can’t say the thought of any third-down parties similar to Stanford and Penn State hasn’t crossed my mind.
Just like everyone else is probably saying, it’s pretty clearly gonna be low-scoring. I’m feeling that first to 21 wins.
(Editor’s note: Gabey wanted to leave it at that and provided a final score very reluctantly.)
Washington- 21, Auburn- 17
There’s nothing so rare in college football as a truly even matchup between teams with legitimate aspirations of competing for a national title, which explains why tomorrow’s game between Washington and Auburn feels so momentous.
For one, both teams are operating under the weight of expectations borne of recent success. Auburn won a national championship as recently as the 2010 season, while Washington is one of just nine programs to appear in the College Football Playoff. Furthermore, both programs enter the 2018 season with stifling defenses, proven quarterbacks and highly-regarded head coaches.
Small wonder, then, that both fan bases seem equally confident that their programs will prevail. The Tigers faithful can’t imagine the Huskies’ offense winning enough one-on-one battles against the combined strength of Nick Coe, Derrick Brown, and Deshaun Davis to swing the game. Meanwhile, Dawg fans everywhere close their eyes and see visions of Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller blanketing Auburn’s wide receivers while Greg Gaines, Benning Potoa’e and Levi Onwuzurike earn coverage sack after coverage sack en route to a statement victory over an SEC opponent.
Ultimately, I don’t imagine that the winner of this game scores more than 24 points. Conversely, I can’t see a scenario in which the loser scores fewer than 14. Logic dictates that one- or two-score defensive slogs hinge on factors like home field advantage and turnover margin. Home field advantage clearly lies with the Tigers; meanwhile, Washington posted a plus-13 turnover margin in 2017, while Auburn’s margin sat at negative-one. Ultimately, I’m putting my faith into Chris Petersen’s proven track record of preparing his teams for big-time season-opening opponents, compared to Auburn’s 8-5 record in August and September since 2015. Maybe it’s shrewd analysis; maybe it’s blatant homerism. Either way, call it:
Washington- 21, Auburn- 17
It’s always tough to write about your projections for the first game of the season. All you really have to go on is what you saw to end the prior season and what you hear about over the course of the preseason. The last we saw UW, their defense was getting pummeled in a manner that we had not seen at any other time in the season while their offense struggled to generate the kind of explosive plays needed to consistently win.
There are certainly answers to these issues if you choose to trust your gut over your eyes. UW not only returns a ton of starting experience on both sides of the ball, but they also have a few answers as to the “breakout playmaker” question. Defensively, all eyes are on players like Byron Murphy, Jaylen Johnson, Jordan Miller, and Benning Potoa’e—players who can fill in the gaps for those who have left the program and help take UW to the next level. On offense, Ty Jones and Salvon Ahmed continue to grab the attention as the “missing pieces” that can enhance the excellent core of Jake Browning, Drew Sample, Chico McClatcher, Trey Adams, and Kaleb McGary.
But Auburn is no slouch. Their defense is loaded with talent, particularly in the front seven where they boast an all-senior linebacking corps and an experienced D-line. Offensively, QB Jarrett Stidham is a gunslinger who is blessed with a deep and talented WR corps. While there are questions at RB and on their offensive line, there are reasons to worry that Auburn simply has more big play potential than UW.
The venue can’t be discounted either. This week will mark Auburn’s third straight game in the Mercedes Benz Dome. Three straight! If that doesn’t count as a home turf advantage, especially over a team traveling all the way across the country, I don’t know what does.
I do think UW has the defensive prowess to contain Auburn’s offense and keep Stidham from operating behind the sticks. I also think that UW is going to be far less prone to mistakes given their history and the experience edge that they have. But an extra possession or two may not compensate for Auburn’s chunk play potential—something I fear UW is not ready to match. As such, I do not think that the Chick-fil-A Kickoff will go UW’s way.
Washington 24, Auburn 31
Washington- 4 votes, Auburn- 4 votes
Average Final Score: Washington- 22.1 to Auburn- 22.5
That seems like it’s all tied up. I guess we should probably call it a draw. But wait. What’s that sound I hear? It’s backspindawg panting heavily as he rushes to get the first comment.
You heard it here first.
Washington- 49, Auburn- 0