A Trip to Death Valley!
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time for another look at a 2011 Auburn football opponent. On September 7th, Auburn travels to Clemson, South Carolina for a nationally televised ABC tilt with the Tigers. The game kicks off at 11:00 AM, so Tiger fans should stock up on the coffee! When these two teams played in 2010, I think it’s fair to say that Clemson dominated much of the game. Auburn had an explosive 3 touchdown third quarter, and hung on for a 27-24 victory in overtime when Clemson’s Chandler Catanzaro missed a field goal. The game sent undefeated Clemson spiraling down to a 6-7 finish to the season. Auburn will be coming off a tough home tilt with Mississippi State, while Clemson will have warmed up with home dates against Troy and Wofford.
A number of great players that were on both sides of the 2010 Tiger vs. Tiger matchup have departed, many to the NFL. 36 lettermen, including the Heisman and Lombardi winners are gone from the Auburn team. Clemson loses 6 defensive starters, including linemen Dequan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins, and back seven defenders Marcus Gilchrist, DeAndre McDaniel, Brandon Maye. The offense loses quarterback Kyle Parker, leading rusher Jamie Harper, and all-ACC tackle Chris Hairston.
In the wake of last season’s disappointing offensive showing, head coach Dabo Swinney swung the ax, firing much of his offensive staff. The replacement coordinator is Chad Morris, hired away from Tulsa. Morris runs a scheme similar to what Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan runs. Offensive line coach (and former South Carolina head coach) Brad Scott was bumped up to the front office, and was replaced by former Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell. It will be interesting to see how quickly the new staff can get the offense installed and flowing smoothly.
Last year’s backup quarterback, sophomore Tajh Boyd is expected to be the man this year. Clemson is also counting on junior running back Andre Ellington. Ellington gashed the Auburn defense for 140 yards on the ground, and 48 through the air in last year’s game. A toe injury sidelined Ellington for the last half of the season, and he missed this spring recovering from surgery. In Clemson’s spring game, respectable rushing numbers were put up by both offenses. Completion percentage was a big issue. None of the 4 quarterbacks that played hit 50 percent of their passes. Boyd was 8 of 24 with one score.
Clemson returns many of its special teams players, including sophomore place-kicker Chandler Catanzaro as well as senior punter Dawson Zimmerman and junior kickoff specialist Spencer Benton. While Catanzaro had an up and down season hitting only 14-22 field goals, Zimmerman has a strong leg, and averaged 42.7 yards per punt. The Tigers will have to find a new return man to replace the departed Marcus Gilchrist, who handled both kick and punt returns. Clemson was a decent coverage team on both units.
Clemson’s defense has some big holes to fill, but coordinator Kevin Steele has some experienced guys to fit together. Senior defensive end Andre Branch is the linchpin of the line, but Clemson must find others to step up. Junior Corico Hawkins returns at middle linebacker, but the outside guys are less experienced. If the spring game is any indication, the front seven has a ways to go. Clemson must also replace several stars in the secondary.
Unit Matchups after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. Clemson offensive line: After the first two games against big offensive lines, the Auburn unit featuring three new talented starters should be ready for Clemson’s veteran O-line. It will help that the team practices against Malzhan’s pulling, trapping O-line every day. Auburn’s fast, disruptive endsNosa Eguae, Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier will be a problem for Clemson to handle. The Clemson tackles will be seniors Phillip Price and Landon Walker. Guards are seniors David Smith and Antoine McClain. The center is junior Dalton Freeman. Advantage: Even.
Auburn linebackers vs. Clemson backs: Auburn was hammered in this matchup last year, giving up 187 on the ground and another 100 or so on receptions by backs. And this year they face a rebuilt Clemson attack without Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens. The Tigers should be faster on the edges, with Darren Bates and Eltoro Freeman at the outside linebacker spots. Even if Clemson star Andre Ellington is not fully healed by September, Clemson has rushing options. There is plenty of speed available out of freshman D. J. Howard and sophomore Roderick McDowell. Redshirt freshman Demont Buice is a power back. Clemson signee Mike Bellamy was a first team Parade All-American last year. Auburn’s linebackers will also have to watch out for quarterback Tajh Boyd, who is an athletic threat to scramble, or take off on the zone-read. Advantage: Clemson.
Auburn corners vs. Clemson receivers: Auburn did a fair job containing the Clemson outside receivers last year, and should be faster and more athletic this year. Veteran T’Sharvan Bell and younger guys Chris Davis, Jonathan Rose and Jonathan Mincy all had great springs. Clemson sophomore DeAndre Hopkins was the team’s leading receiver last year, and should be a big target this season. Junior Jaron Brown will line up on the other side. These starters will be looking over their shoulder in fall camp, though. Clemson signed two five-star receivers, Charone Peake and Sammy Watkins. Add in prep school signee Martavis Bryant, and you’ve got an explosive signing cast. Advantage: Even.
Auburn safeties vs. Clemson secondary receivers and quarterback: Auburn fields two new starters at safety this season, but both are experienced and athletic.Neiko Thorpe and Demetruce McNeal will have faced the Utah spread, and the Mississippi State Mullen attack already. Can they matchup with with the newly minted Morris offense at Clemson? I think the chances are good. Most of the Clemson articles I’ve read rave about sophomore Tajh Boyd’s leadership. Few mention his accuracy. Boyd hit only 33 of 63 passes last season, for 329 yards with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. That’s a 52.3 percent completion percentage, and a pedestrian 5.2 yards per pass average. With Boyd only hitting 8 of 24 in the spring game, Clemson fans have to be concerned. There are some good answers in the secondary receiver department. Junior tight end Dwayne Allen snared 33 balls last season, and was the receiving star of the spring game. Junior Brandon Ford at 6′ 4″ and 220 pounds is one of those big receivers that give Auburn fits. Advantage: Even.
Punting: Auburn will field sophomore Steven Clark, who had a several shaky starts last fall. If the A-Day game is any indication, Clark will boast a much stronger leg this fall. Clemson returns senior Dawson Zimmerman, who was good last season. In this year’s spring game, Zimmerman averaged 52.6 yards on 6 punts. Both teams are still searching for replacement punt returners. Auburn gave up 4.5 yards per return last season, and Clemson gave up 7.2. Advantage: Clemson.
Kickoffs: Auburn sophomore Cody Parkey was used about a third of the time last season, and he averaged 63.2 yards per kickoff. Auburn was second in the SEC last season in kick coverage, helped by a nasty coverage team. Clemson’s junior kickoff specialist Spencer Benton returns. He averaged 65 yards per kickoff last season. Auburn gave up 19.7 yards per kick return, Clemson gave up 20.4. Auburn juniorOnterio McCalebb figures to be the primary kick returner. McCalebb averaged 28.4 yards per return in 2010. Clemson is still searching, although Andre Ellington did return 7 kicks last season before he was hurt, averaging 34.0 yards. Advantage: Even.
Place kicking: Sophomore Cody Parkey takes over as the Auburn kicker. His only college experience is a couple of extra points kicked late in the Homecoming game. Parkey is said to have had a good spring. Parkey’s backup Chandler Brooks hit three field goals longer than 40 yards in Auburn’s A-Day Game. While Clemson sophomore Chandler Catanzaro hit only 14 of 22 field goals last season, he’s more experienced than either Auburn kicker. Advantage: Clemson.
Auburn offensive line vs. Clemson defensive line: Last season’s Auburn vs. Clemson matchup produced a virtual draw. Clemson dominated the first half, and was out hit late. Auburn must replace 4 starters, and Clemson replaces 3. Auburn came out of spring with sophomore Blake Burgess starting at center, with seniorJared Cooper and junior John Sullen at the guard slots. Only Sullen has significant front-line playing time inside. Tackles will be seniors Brandon Mosley and A. J. Greene. The matchup to watch is on the edge, with veteran senior end Andre Branch matched up on either Mosley or Greene. The key is to get low on Branch, as he’s tall at 6′ 5″. Clemson projects junior Mallichiah Goodman to start at the other end spot. Tackles will be seniors Rennie Moore and Brandon Thompson. The Clemson unit gave up a bunch of rushing yardage in their spring game, but Auburn’s line only blocked well enough for one offensive touchdown to be produced in Auburn’s A-Day game. Advantage: Even.
Auburn backs vs. Clemson linebackers: The Auburn Tigers return the one-two punch of freshman All-American Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb at running back, and will look to the incoming signing class to fill out the depth chart. The man in the middle for Clemson is junior Corico Hawkins, who had 71 tackles last season, including 10 for a loss. Outside sophomore Quandon Christian and junior Jonathan Willard will start. The pair combined for 51 tackles off the bench last year. Auburn runners got loose for 150 yards against Clemson last year, despite a veteran front seven loaded with future NFL players. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. Clemson corners: Auburn will rely heavily on returning veteran Emory Blake, and intriguing prospects DeAngelo Benton and Quindarius Carr. Clemson returns 3 starters in the secondary, including senior Cody Sensabaugh and junior Xavier Brewer at corners. Auburn only attempted 14 passes against this unit in 2010, but those 7 that were completed tended to go for big yardage. Auburn averaged 29 yards per catch. Still, it’s a youthful Auburn group against a battle-tested Clemson bunch. Advantage: Clemson.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Clemson safeties: Auburn’s most notable returning secondary receiver is tight end/h-back Phillip Lutzenkirchen, who was a clutch go-to guy last year. About half of his catches resulted in touchdowns. The Tigers also have options from the speedy Trovon Reed to the 290 pound H-Back LaDarius Phillips. Auburn is still in the midst of a quarterback race, but junior Barrett Trotter seems to have the upper hand at this point. Regardless of whether Trotter or sophomore Clint Moseley start, Auburn will field a quarterback with three year’s worth of experience practicing the Gus Malzhan offensive system. Clemson returns veteran junior safety Rashard Hall, who had 65 tackles and 3 pass breakups last season. Replacing departed All-American DeAndre McDaniel is junior Jonathan Meeks. Meeks posted 28 tackles in 2010. Advantage: Auburn.
When the teams met last season, it was billed as a slugfest between heavyweights. Only a handful of those guys are left on either side. Auburn has the pressure advantage, as few folks expect Auburn to do as well this season. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is under some pressure after last year’s 6-7 finish. Clemson had been expected to contend for the title. Some coaches regroup with massive assistant changes. For more of them, it’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Obviously a rowdy, partisan home crowd favors Clemson, but they need to get off to a good start to keep the crowd in the game.
Auburn’s offensive strategy will be to come in and focus on moving the chains against a rebuilt front seven for Clemson. On defense, expect the Tigers to press a lot more than we’re used to. I’d expect to see some bear fronts, and an early attempt to rattle the young Clemson QB. The key is going to be stopping Clemson’s running game, and forcing the Tigers to throw. Auburn will jam the box to do it. Especially look for Auburn to attack tackle Phillip Price, a new starter.
Prediction: Tajh Boyd is inconsistent in his first start against BCS competition. Clemson has some success running, but can’t keep up with Auburn’s methodical pounding administered by Dyer and McCalebb. Auburn wins, 27-20.
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