The Gophers are getting ready face Auburn in the Outback Bowl. It is not very often that the Gophers get to play in a New Year’s Day bowl game and it is not very often they get to play an opponent that is of the caliber of Auburn. Perennially one of the top teams in the SEC and among the top recruiting classes in the country every year.
More previews will be coming in the next week but this one I want to look at the key players for Auburn and the overall talent that is on the Tiger roster.
A brief look where they rank in terms of recruiting classes over the last few years is a pretty good indication that the Gophers are going up against a very talented team.
- 2019 - 11th nationally
- 2018 - 12th
- 2017 - 9th
- 2016 - 9th
In that same span, the best national recruiting class rank the Gophers saw was 39th. The overall talent difference based on recruiting rankings is staggering. Clearly recruiting rankings are not perfect but then looking at the number of kids projected to be drafted, further highlights the talent disparity here.
Auburn projects to have Derrick Brown be the first defensive tackle drafted, somewhere around 10th overall. But also have several others who will be notable draft picks. Mel Kiper ranks his top 10 players at each position for the upcoming draft (not including underclassmen who have yet to declare). Brown is the #1 DT, Prince Tega Wanogho is the 10th best offensive tackle, Marlon Davidson is the 7th best defensive end and K.J. Britt is the 9th best inside linebacker.
Minnesota certainly has NFL talent on their roster as well, but not at the quantity (or quality really) of Auburn. With all of that said, I want to highlight several of their key players and who to watch in the upcoming Bowl game.
Key Players on Offense
While Auburn was really known for their defense this year, and several SEC teams had higher powered offenses, it is not as if they are weak on this side of the ball. Here are some names to watch.
QB - Bo Nix
A true freshman quarterback playing a full season in the SEC. Nix was a 5-star quarterback out of high school and the top dual threat QB. No doubt he has a bright future ahead of him in Auburn. Only 15 passing touchdowns but had 7 more on the ground. Completes around 57% of his passes and only threw 6 picks all season, with 5 of them coming in 2 games (@Florida and Oregon). Containing Nix will be a key for the Gopher defense.
RB - JaTarvious Whitlow
The team’s leading rusher who averages 5 yards per carry but only has 739 yards rushing on the season. Had a great game in their win over Alabama, but put up really poor numbers in their losses to Georgia and Florida. Perhaps stopping the run first and making Auburn one-dimensional is a key.
WR - Seth Williams
Finished 9th in the SEC in receptions and receiving yards. A big, 6’3” sophomore who should be one of the better receivers in the conference next year. This year he was recognized by Pro Football Focus, making their 3rd team All-SEC team.
OL - all
I mentioned Tega Wanogho earlier as a draft pick this coming spring. But Mike Horton at center and Marquel Harrell at guard are also very good. This is a really good offensive line.
Key Players on Defense
This is where Auburn really stands out. This is one of the best defenses in the country. Their top 10 defense against our top 10 offense is going to be really fun to watch. They have forced 22 turnovers on the season, so this is a stout defense that also will make big plays. This concerns me. Here are several reasons why.
DT - Derrick Brown
A potential top 10 pick in the draft, 1st team All SEC and consensus All-American. I wouldn’t complain if he decided to skip the bowl game, but he isn’t.
DE - Marlon Davidson
Also 1st team All SEC with 12.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks.
DL - Nick Coe
Fortunately this kid is deciding to not play in the bowl game.
LB - K.J. Britt
Pro Football Focus called him a 1st team All SEC, the coaches/media named him to the 2nd team. Also a bunch of plays in the backfield for Britt and he will be drafted this spring.
S - Jeremiah Dinson
PFF gave him recognition for being 1st team All SEC. This senior safety had 2 picks, 2 sacks and led the team in tackles.
You want more names? PFF said linebacker Zakoby McClain and corner Roger McCreary were both 2nd team All SEC. This defense is loaded with talent.
This post isn’t to scare you. The Gophers, particularly the offense, have gone up against some really talented teams this year and fared just fine. I really do like our chances more when Kirk Ciarrocca has ample time to come up with a game plan. And if the Gophers can take away the rush, perhaps we can get a couple turnovers out of Nix.
This is just a guide, who to watch on the other side of the ball. Several names to keep an eye on because they are quite talented.
Starting to get very excited about this game on January 1. Even if the task is a large one, I’m very excited.