3 Questions Answered and 3 Questions Remain after Auburn’s Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Victory Against No. 6
Auburn and Washington lived up to all the hype as the two played what was arguably the best game of the opening weekend in college football. Auburn came out on top, 21-16, putting to rest the claim that Mercedes-Benz Stadium was cursed for Auburn.
But how much can be taken away from just one game?
Here are the three biggest questions that were answered, and the three biggest questions that remain after Auburn’s opening week victory against No. 6 Washington.
1. Auburn can win a big game away from Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The 2017 rendition of the Auburn Tigers was a tale of two teams. The team that played at Jordan-Hare Stadium looked like the best team in the country, defeating two top-ranked archrivals.
The team away from Jordan-Hare Stadium looked like a shell of itself, constantly searching for offense, and looking more like a bottom feeder in the SEC West rather than its champion. The 2018 Auburn team needed to make a statement away from home, and fast.
Washington, Mississippi State, Georgia, and Alabama all ranked in the top 20, all away from home for Auburn in 2018. Auburn’s 21-16 win proves that this particular version of Auburn can win away from home, which might be the biggest roadblock for success as Auburn has already begun to prove how talented it is, and that its lofty expectations are within reach.
2. Auburn’s offense will need a few games to start clicking.
As has been the case pretty much every year under Gus Malzahn, the Auburn offense had its struggles to open the season. While the offense did move the ball compiling 420 yards, finishing in the red zone was a problem.
Auburn scored just two touchdowns in five red zone trips, and came up empty once when Anders Carlson missed a field goal. Auburn also struggled to make explosive plays, as they made only two longer than 20 yards, with the longest being 24 yards.
It’s promising for Auburn that when the offense absolutely needed to score they did, but a lot more proficiency is expected from a Gus Malzahn offense than what was seen on Saturday.
3. Auburn’s defense will come up with more takeaways in 2018.
Obviously it’s early, but the Auburn defense made a big statement against Washington that they will cause more turnovers in 2018. Few things were wrong with the defense in 2017, but the one criticism was the lack of forced turnovers.
Auburn forced just 10 turnovers last season, a surprising number for a team as good defensively as they were. This year has already gotten off to a good start with two turnovers being forced against an offense that figures to be among the nation’s best, with a quarterback that should be playing on Sundays in the not-too-distant future.
Another reason to believe more turnovers will be forced is when examining last season, Auburn did force 14 fumbles, but were unlucky to only recover four. This year’s defense is hungrier than the last, which will make for a lot of sudden changes in possession.
Questions That Remain:
1. Will the offensive line mesh into a good line?
The temptation would be to go ahead and say how terrible and awful the offensive line was against Washington and that there’s no hope. But that would be jumping the gun. While the offensive line clearly did not play well, it, like the offense as a whole, did the job when it absolutely had to.
In its current state, the offensive line would not be good enough to hold up against Georgia and Alabama. However, it’s just one game. Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes is known for his development of lineman, therefore it would be a big surprise if the line at the very least did not get a little better as the season went along.
If for no other reason, they’re still fairly inexperienced. As it stands now, the offensive line is not good enough, but there is still plenty of time to change that.
2. Will the secondary become a strength or a weakness?
While the defense as a whole played well against Washington, the secondary produced a mixed bag of results. Holding Jake Browning to a 56 percent completion percentage and intercepting him once were the positives. The negatives came pretty much way away from the line of scrimmage, with several pass interference penalties, and a number of deep completions allowed.
As with the offensive line, there is work to do in the secondary, albeit less as the offensive line struggled the majority of the game. The secondary was actually pretty close to what we thought it would be. It was OK, not great. Not bad, but acceptable. That is why it remains to be seen if the secondary can become a unit that Auburn can lean on, or a unit they need to hide.
3. Will Auburn air it out more in 2018?
This question is a little complicated. It can mean will Auburn throw more passes this season, or it could mean will they throw it down the field more. For our purposes, I’m talking more about the amount of times Auburn throws, not how deep they throw. Game one of the season did not quite provide the answer. Passes versus rushes were about even for Auburn, as even though it ended up 45 rushes to 36 passes, that number includes two sacks and a couple Jarrett Stidham scrambles.
Many want to see Auburn throw more in 2018 as Jarrett Stidham is the best passer Auburn has had since Cam Newton. However, Gus Malzahn remains intent on running the ball. While week one against Washington showed balance, it’s still too early to say how much Malzahn is willing to adapt to his talented junior quarterback.
Auburn will take on Alabama State at Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday at 6:30 on the SEC Network Alternate Channel.