Auburn vs. Washington score: No. 9 Tigers make statement with win over No. 6 Huskies
The Pac-12's best chance at a College Football Playoff bid took a big blow in its first game
ATLANTA -- No. 9 Auburn's defense roared Saturday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a 21-16 win over No. 6 Washington, the only meeting between top 10 teams in Week 1.
With under two minutes to play at the Auburn 43-yard-line, Tigers defensive lineman Big Kat Bryant sacked Huskies quarterback Jake Browning on third down, and defensive back Smoke Monday got into the backfield and forced an incomplete pass on fourth down to cap off a defensive slugfest.
It was a fitting end to a game that saw the Tigers notch seven tackles for loss and five sacks while dominating the line of scrimmage from the outset.
What did we learn Saturday afternoon?
1. Auburn's defense is legit: The Tigers held Washington to 398 total yards, 3.1 yards per rush and consistently found their way into the Huskies backfield to disrupt plays. New starting Buck linebacker Nick Coe looked like an absolute force off the edge for coordinator Kevin Steele's defense with one sack, two tackles for loss and a huge forced fumble that stalled a Washington drive late in the third quarter. That's important for the Tigers because Coe is filling in for recently-departed Jeff Holland -- the only contributing member of the Tigers defensive line to move on after last season.
The combination of a new star at Buck with a deep, experienced and versatile interior defensive front makes this defense incredibly dangerous. What's more, the confidence they gained by slowing down a top-tier offense when it had to in order to win the game will be invaluable moving for.
After all, the Auburn offense can't stay down forever, right? Right?
2. Washington's wide receivers are wizards: If it wasn't for quarterback Jake Browning and a sizzling group of wide receivers, the Huskies might not have had any offense at all. In the second and third quarters -- when Washington began chipping away -- Browning began dropping dimes to a talented group including leading receiver Aaron Fuller (seven catches, 135 yards).
These weren't your ordinary catches. They were masterpieces that will appear on every sizzle reel for the rest of the season -- like the catch below from Quinten Pounds.
If the passing game for Washington can click like this moving forward, the Huskies will be just fine.
3. Auburn's offense is far from a finished product: Don't let the win over a top 10 team fool you. Auburn's offense was dreadful Saturday afternoon against the Huskies. The offensive line -- the biggest question mark heading into the season -- was an abject disaster, which hampered drive after drive for coach Gus Malzahn.
Their defensive line is extremely well-coached," Malzahn said. "They're very, very talented. So I thought overall -- here's the deal: It was a great experience for that group, especially the new guys that are starting for really the first time against a defense like that, and it'll be great experience. I think it really can help us moving forward."
Its struggles didn't allow the offense to get going at all. The Tigers averaged just 3.3 yards per carry on the afternoon, Kam Martin was bottled up all afternoon with the exception of two big runs and quarterback Jarrett Stidham spent most of the second half looking squarely at the pass rush rather than his receivers downfield.
Did the OL struggle because of Washington's defensive front, or will this be a lingering problem? LSU is looming in Week 3 ... and those Tigers play a little defense too.
4. Washington isn't dead: Don't fall into the trap of thinking that Washington's College Football Playoff chances are done after falling to Auburn. It's Week 1. Remember in Week 2 in 2014 when we all thought the Big Ten was dead? Well, all Ohio State did after that was make the CFP and win the national title.
It boils down to this -- conference perception doesn't matter right now. It will down the road when the College Football Playoff selection committee begins to meet and put out rankings. But it doesn't now. By that point, Washington might prove to be the best team in a conference that boasts several national championship contenders.
We just don't know at this point. Let's see how the season plays out for the next month or so, determine the actual landscape of the college football season and then judge the worthiness of the Huskies.
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