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A Daunting Task on a National Stage

By on September 7th, 2017 in Football, News 10 Comments »

Can Auburn stretch a stout Clemson defense?
(Photo by Acid Reign)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s a big game week for Auburn in Week Two of the 2017 college football season. The Tigers travel to Clemson, South Carolina to take on the defending national champions. Auburn won’t have as big a chance to make a statement to national voters and committees until the Iron Bowl in late November.

     I have heard it opined elsewhere that this game isn’t particularly important as Auburn will come out of it undefeated in the SEC, regardless of what happens. I disagree. This Auburn team hopes to compete for a national championship. And if this team is to become a national champion, it has to win this sort of games. It must be able to focus, block out distractions, go into a hostile environment, and win. If the team can’t win in South Carolina, how is it going to fare during a 3-game road stretch to Baton Rouge, Fayetteville and College Station later in the season?

     I think back to the 1987 season for a comparison. After blowing a 10-point lead in Knoxville and leaving with a tie, Auburn was on a tear. A tough road trip to Chapel Hill followed, and Auburn was up to the task, beating North Carolina. Florida and Emmitt Smith would tame the Tigers, or so the rs opined. Auburn blasted Florida 29–6, to move to 6–0–1 and 6th in the nation. Florida State came to Auburn, ranked 4th. Head Coach Pat Dye opined famously in a press conference leading up to the game, “This one ain’t important. It’s not an SEC game.” The team took Dye at his word, and mailed it in that Saturday. FSU trounced Auburn, 34–6. Auburn would still finish the season with a 27–11 win at Georgia and a 10–0 blanking of Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The Tigers were SEC Champions, headed to the Sugar Bowl to play unbeaten, untied Syracuse. That game featured the infamous last second field goal to tie, and Auburn finished 9–1–2. Had Auburn won against Florida State, it would have been playing for a national championship that year.

     My gut feeling for this game is that Auburn will continue playing well on defense as the unit has been very, very consistent over the past year. The defense can’t win the game by itself, though. The offense is going to have to make some first downs and avoid mistakes, of which we saw plenty against Georgia Southern last Saturday. I think we’ll have to see some good throws down the field. Georgia Southern backed off and allowed dumpoffs underneath. Clemson won’t. They’ll press, and they will blitz. Last week, Auburn did not complete a single pass of 20 yards or more.

Thoughts around the SEC, after the jump.

     I felt like before the season started, that Missouri had most of a pretty good offense coming back, and the Tigers might even contend for the SEC East title. In a tune-up against Missouri State, the offense did indeed set records. Unfortunately, so did the Mizzou defense. In the 72–43 Missouri win, the defense gave up 492 yards. The sad thing is that in the SEC East, it might not matter. There were offensive struggles throughout the division.

     Vanderbilt traveled to Middle Tennessee and took on the Blue Raiders. In the past few seasons, this is the sort of game that Vanderbilt loses. Instead, it shut down the Raiders and won 28–6. It was a good start towards getting bowl eligible for a second year in a row.

     Kentucky also went on the road, to Southern Mississippi. Kentucky had one of the better offenses in the East last season. In Hattiesburg, that wasn’t the case. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran’s bunch looked lost at times and made mistake after mistake. Fortunately for the Wildcats, the Golden Eagles made even more mistakes, and Kentucky survived 24–17.

     South Carolina traveled to Charlotte and took on a North Carolina State Wolfpack team everyone had marked as an ACC contender this season. Under second year coach Will Muschamp, the Gamecocks refused to go quietly. Despite being outplayed by a Wolfpack offense that had twice as many yards, South Carolina made fewer mistakes and hung on for a big 35–28 win.

     Georgia hosted Appalachian State and sleep-walked through the first bit, going three and out on their first three possessions. Then, starting quarterback Jacob Eason was lost to injury, and the Bulldogs rolled over in their sleep enough to put away a 31–10 win. Here’s hoping that they wake up enough to show up for a big game against Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday.

     Speaking of sleep-walking, Tennessee did the same thing in Atlanta. On Labor-Day night against Georgia Tech, the Jackets had a big 21–7 lead in the 3rd quarter and had thoroughly outplayed the Vols. Then, neither team could play defense in the 4th quarter. Tennessee stormed back, and Georgia Tech blew several chances to put the game out of reach. In the bottom of the second overtime, the Yellow Jackets tried to end the game with a 2-point conversion and failed. Tennessee survived, 42–41. Tennessee gave up 535 rushing yards to the Jackets.

     The worst performance of the week for the SEC had to be Florida, which was thoroughly dismantled, 33–17, by the Michigan Wolverines in Arlington, Texas. Florida’s 2 touchdowns were both on interception returns for scores. The offense was beyond awful. It’s hard to believe that 5 years ago, Florida head coach Jim McElwain was a national-championship-winning offensive coordinator.

     If Florida was the worst SEC team of the week, Texas A&M was a close second. For more than a half, the Aggies dominated UCLA. The Aggies rolled up 382 rushing yards and held a 44–10 lead. Then the Aggies gave up 5 unanswered touchdowns. The worst of it was that the Aggies kept throwing incomplete passes, generously stopping the clock time and time again for the Bruins. UCLA stormed back and won the game, 45–44. I’m shocked that no one got fired after that performance!

     LSU played Brigham Young last weekend in a game hastily moved to the New Orleans Superdome, thanks to bad weather. The LSU defense was dominant, pitching a shutout and holding the Cougars to 97 total yards. We kept hearing that the LSU offense was going to be different this year, opening things up. Instead, it was like Les Miles never left. LSU handed off, and handed off some more, and attempted only 18 passes. Derrius Guice carried the ball 27 times, in a game where the Cougars had no chance to score. I guess the staff learned nothing from beating Leonard Fournette into the ground the past few seasons.

     Arkansas kicked off the SEC season on Thursday night and looked weak early against Florida A&M. Unlike some SEC East teams, Arkansas got it together and blasted the opposition 49–7 in the end.

     Mississippi State had little trouble with Charleston Southern, roaring to a 49–0 win. Southern managed only 33 total yards.

     For the second year in a row, South Alabama was looking to open the season with an upset over an SEC team. Ole Miss seemed ready to oblige them for about a half. The Ole Miss passing attack then came alive, and the Rebs pulled away in the second half, winning 47–27.

     Alabama traveled to Atlanta for a big showdown with the Florida State Seminoles for a defacto national championship elimination game. Alabama’s new-look defense looked just fine while FSU’s offense was a no-show. Alabama won comfortably, 24–7.

     This Saturday, we’ll have our usual open thread, and I’ll be doing a full play-by-play at game time. Auburn and Clemson will kick off at 6:00 PM CT on ESPN national television.


  1. uglyjoe says:

    Fun read this morning Acid. I enjoyed my senior year in 87 and went to most of the games, including the Sugar Bowl. I remember listening to the North Carolina game in my apartment on West Glenn – an early game as I remember. I remember feeling sick after the FSU game, and I remember Coach Dye signing the ties after the Sugar Bowl.

    I’d have to argue that TAM was the worst SEC team this weekend. Although they played well for two and a half quarters, the stigma of that collapse has to award them some all time honors. At least Florida lost to a potential contender.

    I look for a good evening in South Carolina…..I got a feeling….

    It’s going to a tough weekend for some folks on the coast this weekend – selfishly hoping it’s not me, and l wouldn’t want to be in South Florida this weekend. Good thoughts and prayers for those folks.

  2. ausouthal says:

    You are correct my friend. It is high time Auburn wins some of these games. Wouldn’t it be nice to expect Auburn to beat clemson instead of just expecting them to win against mercer. To be the best you got to beat the best a friend of mine used to always say. I just hope the team has more confidence than the fan base and at times their own coach. Give em hell this week end you AUBURN TIGERS. I am one fan that believes we should win.

  3. audad says:

    Acid, good column and I like your use of the word “daunting” in your headline. Indeed it will be. It’s a terrific early season test for both the offense and defense. One of the biggest mysteries to me from last week was the fact not one ball (that I can recall) was thrown to Nate Craig-Myers. Was he suited up? He developed into one of their most reliable receivers last year, and it was puzzling that he was not targeted once. If he’s healthy, hopefully he will play heavily into the passing game this week as I think he and Stidham can be a great combo.

  4. ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

    I look for good things against Clemson —
    Were it not for some weird and confusing coaching, Auburn would have beaten Clemson last year. I still don’t understand the three quarterback rotation.
    And I don’t think Clemson is as good a team this year. Not a bad team, I just don’t think they are as good as last season.
    Playing them in Death Valley will be the tough part, I think.
    Here’s hoping the defense continues to play lights out and the offense has a good game.

    As always, it’s Great to be an Auburn Tiger —


  5. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    No worries, mates…………until Baton Rouge!
    Auburn will win Saturday against Clempson.
    Kyle and Pettway will have fun, and Stidham will get great experience against a very good Clempson secondary.

    aTm blew a game they had in the bag. Shame, shame, shame.

    Everyone gets better this Saturday except uaT. Fresno will not be a challenge.

    War dam, errybody!!!!!

  6. KungFuPanda9 KungFuPanda9 says:

    I think Auburn can and should win this game with Clemson. We could have won last year except for inept coaching decisions. And that still has me concerned.

    Auburn has a defense that is just as stout this year as last year. And our offense is significantly improved at a number of positions. I still want to see some improvement on the O line. But most importantly, I want to see Gus allow skill position players to assume more than one role. By that I mean, a ball carrier can also be a blocker and pass receiver. A wide receiver should be able to block and receive passes. This means that the quarterback has to throw to everybody to create that impression on defenders.

    I have said this before, but it is too easy to defend against an offense that only has one running back on the field at a time. During run plays, you only have to account for the QB and the RB. During pass plays, a defender can omit certain WRs and usually the backs and tight ends because they very seldom receive passes. Therefore, once the O line declares the play by staying or crossing the line of scrimmage, defenders can eliminate all but two or three possible threats. This is on Gus.

    We have the athletes to win every game this year. It is up to our coaches to create a successful strategy.

    Also, this game with Clemson does matter. It is a statement game. Either we are a National contender, or just a little fish in the local pond.

    Auburn should win this game by at least a field goal.

  7. DBAU81 says:

    The last really big road game we won was at Ole Miss in 2014. The following week was the “butt fumble” game at home against A&M. It’s taken us almost three years to get back into a position to win a huge game against a top-tier opponent on the road. A loss Saturday night won’t kill us, but a win would set us up for a special season. I have a feeling this team and these coaches are sick and tired of being mired in the middle of the pack in the SEC and they’re ready to do something about it.

  8. AUFarmBoy AUFarmBoy says:

    To me the entire offensive unit is in doubt at this point in time . Johnson is out
    and Pettway has not played in a game yet . The line had some problems . The
    receivers don’t look very good and the QB is nothing to home about .
    I guess all that could change in a week but given the last couple of years I’m
    not brimming with confidence that it will turn out that way come Saturday night .

    I think our defense is good enough to win . I just hope the offense don’t actually
    score points for Clemson like they did for Georgia last year . Hopefully it will
    all come together enough to beat Clemson . We need this win folks .

  9. Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

    Great column acid, as usual

    This game will come down to how well our O-line, handles their front seven. I think our defense is good enough to keep this game in hand and limit Clemsons scoring to whatever secondary breakdowns occur. The secondary is the only group that didn't get tested last week and we aren't sure how ready they are. I think we have plenty of talent there however, so I am not worried about them other than maybe some communication issues.

    The O-line is worrisome. The left side of the line looked awful on pass protection in the 1st half and is one reason Stidham was unable to get comfortable early on…..IMO. Also they weren't exactly blowing up holes in the middle of the line for KJ or KM either. Pettway will need some a running lane in the middle for him to be successful and not running into a mosh pit. Most of our success was on the edge where Clemson will have much more speed than GSU had. I think we were hoping that the line was going to be a strength going into the season and through game one, I don't see that being the case. Luckily though, we saw these issues last week and Coach Hand has a week to address them and get those guys ready. Sometimes I think it is better to struggle in the 1st game so you don't get complacent and you work harder to prepare for that 1st big test.

    I expect Stidham to benefit from last week as well, as he looks to be the kind of guy who will take accountability and will work hard to make sure he and the WR's are on the same page.

    If the O-line play is average, we wont win this game but I am confident that Coach's Hand and Lindsey will make adjustments and get them on track and they will step up to the challenge of the Clemson D-line.
    Just make sure everyone is well hydrated so we don't get any quad or hammy strains!!

  10. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    If we have to burn a red shirt because of Sean…ERRRR!!!