Another game and another upstart team for Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers (1-0) to face. Last week, Auburn pulled out a last-second 27-21 come-from-behind victory over then-No. 11 Oregon and now faces a Tulane (1-0) team wanting to cash in on the trend of slaying some of the sleeping SEC giants starting the 2019 college football season. Can Tulane rise up and embarrass yet another SEC team in the early part of the season, or can Auburn push past the mental and physical fatigue of a hard-fought game for another victory?
In the season opener for the Green Wave, Tulane wasted little time warming up the offense in extending a 28-7 halftime lead over FIU to a 42-14 win. Tulane had its way with the Panthers on the ground, rushing for 350 yards. Senior quarterback Justin McMillan, complemented the ground game nicely, throwing for 199 yards with two touchdowns. FIU had nowhere to run against Tulane, mustering only 59 rush yards off 26 attempts.
Auburn’s road to an opening-game victory was not nearly as easy. With true freshman quarterback Bo Nix getting a baptism by fire against one of the top teams in the nation, the Tigers offense sputtered early on and faced a 14-6 halftime deficit. The margin widened to 21-6 before Nix threw his first collegiate touchdown pass to Eli Stove. In all, Auburn scored 21 unanswered points, getting a 26-yard touchdown pass from Nix to Seth Williams with nine seconds left to seal the victory.
Tulane at Auburn
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Auburn -17.5
When Tulane Has the Ball
Tulane's emphasis on the ground game last week was not an anomaly. The Green Wave were one of college football’s best rushing offenses a year ago, amassing an average of 218 yards per game. Senior tailback Darius Bradwell is the leader in the backfield and is coming off a 1,134-yard 11-touchdown performance last season. He picked up where he left off, netting 90 yards off 13 totes in the win over FIU.
Tulane performed particularly well given what the Green Wave had to replace in the trenches. Left guard Corey Dublin is the only starter back up front, although the new starting unit includes seniors Tyler Johnson and Christian Montano. They face an Auburn front four that might be the best in the nation and held a very talented Oregon line and backfield to 90 yards on the ground.
An interesting aspect to this game is seeing McMillan, a grad transfer from LSU, start against a SEC team. Will the familiarity with the Tigers’ calls and personnel help or add to a fear factor? Tulane has not asked McMillan to do too much in the passing game; he threw for 1,304 yards with 10 scores a year ago on 154 attempts. He was on target against FIU, hitting 14-of-18 attempts and taking just one sack.
When Auburn Has the Ball
Look for Nix's maturation to continue. His last-second heroics overshadowed an average game at best for a collegiate quarterback but a pretty darn good one for his very first game, considering the competition. Nix completed 13-of-31 passes for 177 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. He added 42 yards on the ground, giving Malzahn’s offense that extra weapon that has been missing over the past two seasons. With Kent State next up on the schedule, Malzahn can experiment with Nix and get his five-star quarterback more comfortable in the offense before traveling to College Station to face Texas A&M.
The successful Auburn offenses under Malzahn have been built on the run, but that element has been missing in recent years until a resurgent performance in Week 1. The Tigers impressed against Oregon, rushing for 206 yards and picking up 13 first downs along the way. With Nix feeling his way through the first part of the season, being able to rely on the run is a must. JaTarvious Whitlow showed up for the Tigers in the opener, rushing 24 times for 110 yards. Little was seen of Kam Martin last week, but expect the carries to be more evenly dispersed on Saturday.
Tulane’s defense was susceptible to the pass last season, allowing 260 yards per contest and ranking 107th out of 129 FBS teams. Nix can use this opportunity to develop better in-game chemistry with his receivers. Seth Williams was the leading target against Oregon with four receptions for 41 yards and a score. The ball was spread around the field, with seven different receivers making a catch.
The fun part of the game will be seeing if Tulane’s up-tempo offense can find cracks in Auburn’s run defense. For the Green Wave to stay in the game, McMillian will have to pick apart his old buddies when called upon. For Auburn, the Tigers got out of the Oregon game without any significant injuries. The goal is always to come out strong, bend the opposition to your will and then take out the starters as early as possible. If a big lead is built early, will Auburn stay focused for four quarters on defense to keep Tulane at arm's length?
Prediction: Auburn 42, Tulane 17
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.