Auburn will open its 2019 season Saturday against No. 11 Oregon in a neutral site game in Arlington in a high-stakes showdown that could help define both teams' seasons.
The Tigers have been working toward the primetime matchup for months now and as week one creeps closer, Auburn players on both sides of the ball are ready for a rematch of the 2011 BCS National Championship.
Perhaps the biggest challenge the Tigers will face is stopping Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. The 6-foot-6, 233-pound quarterback is a fourth-year starter and among the top signal-callers in all of college football.
Senior safety Daniel Thomas will play a key part of the Tigers' plan to stop the Heisman candidate. Thomas’ 74 tackles were second most on the team last year but regardless of his talents, the safety knows he and his fellow defensive backs have quite the challenge ahead.
“It’s going to be interesting, I guess. We’ve just got to continue to study film, do our checks, do our adjustments and just study all of his checkdowns and where he likes to go to. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a big challenge for us and our secondary,” he said.
Fellow senior safety Jeremiah Dinson knows the gravity of the task ahead. However, entering his final season, a high-profile matchup like the one on Saturday is exactly how the Miami native wants to kick off his last season in orange and blue.
“Being a senior, you want these types of matchups. Being at Auburn, you want these types of matchups. And you know, we know what we’re going to face — he (Herbert) is an NFL-caliber quarterback,” Dinson said. “He’s a good quarterback. I’ve been studying him since the summer. … He can throw the ball so it’s going to be a good challenge for us.
On the other side of the ball, the Auburn offensive line, a group with five redshirt senior starters, will have the chance to show improvement as a group after struggling at times in 2018.
“I’m tired of hitting our defense, I’m ready to hit someone else," left guard Marquel Harrell said.
Speaking of someone else, Harrell complimented an Oregon defense that will enter its first game under new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos.
“Electric. They run to the ball. Real athletic, fast, come downhill. I’m excited to play against them — good competition," he said.
Despite the battle in the trenches, all eyes will likely be on Auburn quarterback Bo Nix. The legacy recruit will be the first true freshman to start in an opener for the Tigers since 1946.
The lights might be a bit too big for most 19-year-olds but according to redshirt senior tackle Jack Driscoll and many others, Nix plays with an ability and swagger that exceeds his age.
“For his age, he really does not play like a 19-year-old kid. He really took control during camp, and really Joey (Gatewood) did too, but for a freshman to come in the mid-year, he was confident and we kind of just told him, ‘You’ve got to be a leader despite what age you are, you’re the quarterback, you’ve got to make sure we’re all on the same page and what not,’” Driscoll said. "He really, especially in camp, stepped up his leadership and we’re excited for him. He’s a great athlete and he can make a lot of plays, make plays out of nothing so we’re excited for what he can bring to our offense.”
Last year, the Tigers opened up their season with a 21-16 victory over another Pac-12 contender in Washington.
If Auburn wants to start this season off on the right foot and have the same result in a similar matchup, the team will need to stay focused and execute across all facets of the game.