Running the Point is a weekly column written by Noah Gardner of RadioAlabama Sports, featuring opinion on Auburn Athletics and other relevant sports topics. Follow Noah on Twitter at @PointGuardner.
Perhaps the most talked about matchup in Auburn’s season opener against Oregon is the battle between the Auburn defensive line and the Oregon offensive line.
On paper, this isn’t hard to see as both units are loaded with seniors and NFL talent. For Auburn, Derrick Brown, Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson all are NFL-caliber defensive linemen who decided to return to Auburn when they could currently be playing on NFL rosters. For Oregon, the Ducks return the most experienced offensive line in the country with 153 career starts combined.
It is evident from the coverage of college football this past Saturday the narrative surrounding the 2019 AdvoCare Classic is one that is overhyping the Oregon offensive line.
I can’t understate the value of an experienced offensive line, especially in protecting the quarterback. Throwing the football with Justin Herbert is the staple of the Oregon offense, but even in protecting the signal caller versus Pac-12 opposition, Oregon was ranked fifth in the conference in sacks allowed.
Fifth in the Pac-12 in anything doesn’t qualify you as being one of the best units in college football. Need I remind you that Pac-12 champion Washington lost four games a year ago and needed a pick six to beat Utah 10-3 in the Pac-12 championship. The Pac-12 is undeniably the worst Power Five conference in college football.
Sure, there is talent in the Pac-12, and the Oregon offensive line is one of the most talented units in the conference, but it has not faced a defensive line of the caliber it will face against Auburn. Let’s examine the best defensive lines that Oregon played against a year ago and their performance against those defensive lines.
Against Stanford, a 9-4 team, the Ducks ran for 3.6 yards per carry and allowed four sacks in a loss. In a three-point win versus Washington, the Ducks ran for 3.6 yards per carry, but cleaned up pass protection for only one sack allowed. In a loss to Washington State, the Ducks rushed for their second-lowest average of the season at 2.4 yards per carry and allowed three sacks. Against a unit that has been placed among the level of Auburn’s in preseason hype, Utah held Oregon to 3.7 yards per carry and accumulated four sacks. In the snoozer of bowl season, the Redbox Bowl, Oregon beat Michigan State 7-6, while the offensive line helped the running game average 1.4 yards per carry and allowed three sacks.
In those five games, Oregon went 2-3, rushed for 2.9 yards per carry and allowed three sacks per game. The stats speak for itself.
I don’t doubt Oregon has a good offensive line, and it probably will improve a little. What I do doubt is the competition Oregon has faced and how silly the statistics have been produced against that competition. Oregon just might be sitting ducks when they play the Tigers’ defensive line on Saturday.