By Acid Reign on August 30, 2012 Paraswarm@aol.com
Auburn has not lost in the Georgia Dome since December of 2001!
War Eagle, everybody! Here we are, on the day of the first college football games of the season! Time seemed to stand still this summer, and we thought this day would never arrive. We’ll watch South Carolina and Vanderbilt with great interest tonight, but Auburn’s attention is on another South Carolina team. On Saturday in the Georgia Dome, at 7:00 PM, Auburn takes on the defending ACC Champion Clemson Tigers. It’s an ESPN headliner, and a great opportunity for one of these teams to start the season with a bang.
As legendary Auburn coach Pat Dye used to say, “the hay’s in the barn” for this game. Fall camp is done for both teams, and the game plan is in place. The work’s been done, and all that is left are walk-throughs. It’s going to be an interminable wait for us, but just imagine what it will be like for the players! If Auburn’s published depth is true, Auburn will be heading into the opener with 12 players out of the top 22 playing their first game at a new position. That’s Angelo Blackson at tackle, Dee Ford at strongside end, Jonathan Evans at strong side linebacker, Darren Bates at weak side linebacker, Ryan White at corner, Jermaine Whitehead at strong safety, Ryan Smith at free safety, Greg Robinson and Avery Young at offensive tackle, Tunde Fariyike at center, Trovon Reed at wide receiver, and Khiel Frazier at quarterback. There’s a nucleus of players in there that has played a lot of ball, but it’s still a list that makes this Auburn fan nervous.
Clemson’s got worries, too. The status of starting sophomore right tackle Gifford Timothy continues to be uncertain. A week ago, it did not look like he’d play against Auburn. Now he’s said to be getting reps. If he can’t go, or can only play limited snaps, Clemson will likely use a freshman in his place, Shaq Anthony. Given Auburn’s strength and depth at defensive end, it’s not a good situation for Clemson. The Chad Morris/Malzhan offense posts up the center and the tackles to take out linemen one-on-one, while guards pull. We saw last year what happens when one or more of those three post guys get beat consistently. The Malzhan offense is a mess without all the blocks being made.
Senior Clemson running back Andre Ellington had a terrific 140 yard day against Auburn in 2010, but that number dwindled to just 46 yards on 14 carries last year, as he split time with newcomer D. J. Howard. Where Clemson did the real damage last year to the Auburn defense was through the air. Sammy Watkins had 10 catches for 155 yards, but he’s suspended for this game. DeAndre Hopkins, who is active for this game had 7 catches for 83 yards. Clemson will hope for others to step up, and take the pressure off Hopkins, who’ll likely see a lot of double teams.
Clemson is really young at defensive tackle, and inside linebacker. Maybe Auburn’s emergency starting center, sophomore Tunde Fariyike can handle them. I think our OL scheme is more suited to handle pressure than Clemson’s is. If Auburn misses a block, we’ll have shorter splits, plus Prosch or Lutz to pick up the free guy. Auburn’s O-Line is young, but they are talented, and Clemson’s front seven, aside from scary ends, is really young. Senior end Malliciah Goodman is a good one, and there’s no real way for Auburn to simulate his size and speed on the the practice field. Clemson is unsettled, and not as experienced as they’d like at linebacker. There’s little doubt that Clemson will put talented guys on the field, but sometimes those new linebacker starters are a liability in early games, playing hesitantly, and not sure of assignments.
Clemson’s senior kicker Chandler Catanzaro is on a number of award watch lists, but Clemson has to replace the strong leg of Dawson Zimmerman in the punting game. Tapped as the replacement is senior Spencer Benton, who does have some game experience. Auburn appears to have a bit of an edge in some special teams areas, particular on the return teams. Clemson had difficulty covering punts last season, giving up 9.3 yards per return.
I’d grant Auburn the pressure edge. Auburn’s not highly regarded coming off last season’s 5 big losses, while Clemson is a defending conference champ. The heat is on Dabo’s team to prove that they are not the group that gave up 73 points in the Orange Bowl.
What’s worrisome for Auburn is that time has proven that it’s really tough for any team to run for 100 yards against a Brent Venables defense. The Auburn offense spent most of the spring working on the running game. Where Venables has been suspect is against the committed, disciplined passing attack. Can Auburn, with a new starting QB take advantage of some matchup problems with Blake, Lutzenkirchen and McCalebb?
The Auburn defense looked absolutely clueless against Chad Morris’ passing game last season. Has Brian vanGorder had any experience defending against the Gus Malzhan attack? History says no. The most recent SEC wisdom says to attack the middle of the line against that attack, and hope your corners and outside linebackers can make tackles in space. Auburn has the talent, and the mismatch up front to make this happen. And at least most of the defense has practiced against this offense in the past.
Honestly, the loss of Reese Dismukes is a blow. Before that happened, I thought Auburn had a great chance to get a big push on the offensive line. Now, I think that matchup is at best a push. Maybe a bit of a Clemson advantage, although they don’t have a lot of depth at either line spot.
I’m excited to see this new edition of the Auburn Tigers on the field, and we’ll know a lot more by late Saturday evening. I had picked Auburn to win a close one earlier this past spring, but my best guess now is a straight-up pick ‘em.
As is our gameday Saturday tradition, we’ll have an open thread up, and will be checking in all day. We’re not sure how it will go Saturday night, but I’m planning on doing my usual play-by-play. Honestly, I don’t know if the new comment section will auto-refresh on your screen with each new post. I’d suggest refreshing frequently, till we see how it goes. That F5 key at the top center of your keyboard will reload the page in most browsers. Should be an interesting new experience. As always, feel free to chime in and participate! War Eagle, and beat Clemson!
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