Clemson vs. Auburn, Game Preview (9-1-12): Who has the Loudest Roar?
August 28th, 2012 By De'Angelo Bryant
Saturday night will mark the third time in three years the Auburn and Clemson Tigers will square off in ACC vs. SEC matchup. Just two seasons ago Auburn's historic season nearly came to an end, but they prevailed with a riveting 27-24 overtime victory in Jordan-Hare Stadium. In 2011, Clemson got its payback by snapping the defending national champions' 17-game winning streak in Death Valley. Saturday marks the beginning of a new year. Both teams are looking to break the two-game tie and gain momentum heading into the rest of the 2012 season.
2012 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Weekend
Clemson retains just two starters from an offense that gave up 33 sacks a season ago. Auburn DE Corey Lemonier has one of the best get-offs in college football and will pose problems for Clemson's inexperienced tackles.
The matchup to watch, however, will be between Clemson All-ACC center Dalton Freeman and Auburn DT Jeffrey Whitaker. Freeman possesses a strong football IQ and displays above average quickness to lock on to defenders after the snap. Whitaker's strength will be a good test for Freeman, as the 6'4, 301-pound junior exhibits a good bull rush coming off the ball. While this is not a huge area of concern for Freeman, he can find himself in the QB's lap when he takes false steps.
Auburn is sure to overpower the defending ACC Champions up front with additional pressure from DT Kenneth Carter, and sleeper DE Nosa Eguae. Clemson's OL is built on finesse blocking schemes to take the pressure off the big men up front. It may not be enough this Saturday.
Battle of the 23's
In last season’s contest, the Auburn Tigers were successful running the football on the perimeter for much of the game. With Onterio McCalebb heading the backfield after the departure of 1,200-yard rusher Michael Dyer, expect for the Tigers to stretch the defense with multiple running plays that cater to his sub-4.3 speed.
Clemson RB Andre Ellington eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last season, despite being hampered by lower body injuries for most of the year. When Ellington is healthy, he's one of the smoothest RBs at accelerating to get through the hole. The All-ACC performer excels best when he runs from the pistol formation, where he can use his vision to find open creases in the defense.
Adjusting to new Coordinators
Auburn's defense attempts to recover from a major downfall in 2011. During their 2010 national championship season, the Tigers were among the nation’s best defending the run (ranked 9th). In 2011, the tides turned, and Gene Chizik's defense finished last or next to last in the SEC in every major defensive category.
To improve these numbers Brian VanGorder moves into the defensive coordinator position. Former DC Ted Roof joined Penn State's staff after last season. VanGorder, who's no stranger to the SEC (DC at UGA '01-'04), brings in a defensive philosophy that places emphasis on the defensive line creating havoc at the LOS (line of scrimmage). The former NFL DC (Atlanta Falcons) will battle with depth issues this season and we could witness this on Saturday. Particularly if Clemson's offense steals a few extra possessions throughout the course of the game.
Perhaps Clemson OC Chad Morris would have filled in nicely at Auburn after being an understudy of former Auburn OC and current Arkansas State HC Gus Malzahn's offensive philosophy. Scot Loeffler enters his first season at Auburn and second as an OC (Temple). Last season, Temple's offense finished first in the MAC in rushing offense, but near the bottom of the conference in passing. One of the biggest challenges the Tigers have to overcome will be replacing the rushing threat Dyer gave to them as an every down RB. We could see the new Tigers' offense in multiple formations to distribute the football to senior WR Emory Blake and TE Philip Lutzenkirchen.
The last time we saw Dabo Swinney's defense take the field they were embarrassed in the Discover Orange Bowl by Geno Smith and the West Virginia Mountaineers. Former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has since moved on and is replaced by former Oklahoma DC Brent Venables. Venables takes over a defense that finished below average in the ACC. His defenses are noted to have a high percentage of three-and-outs and his front sevens have been highly active behind the LOS. If there is one area of concern, his defenses have struggled in recent years versus teams that present multiple spread formations. His secondary can be passive, often resulting into offenses gaining large amounts of hidden yardage at inopportune times.
No Watkins, No Worries
Clemson may have the best receiving corps from top to bottom in the nation. Of course, the Tigers will miss the presence of 2011 ACC Freshman of the Year Sammy Watkins. WR-mate DeAndre Hopkins may be on the verge of becoming the team's most complete receiver. Hopkins took a year off from the hardwood (played on Clemson's basketball team) to focus on developing his skill set as a wideout. Don't be surprised if Hopkins has a big game with eight or more catches.
Senior WR Jaron Brown is another big receiver who does a good job of using his body as a shield between him and the defender. They will need Brown to step up and work the deep portion of the field versus Auburn's CBs. Also of note is the return of three talented sophomores in Charone Peake, Adam Humphries, and Martavis Bryant. All three players saw a significant amount of time during the Tigers' ACC title run. Bryant may have the highest ceiling out of the three.
This game could come down to which team wins the battle in the trenches. Not only does Clemson come into this game with questions on the OL, they are rebuilding a defensive front that lost three players that caused a lot of disruption. It will be interesting to see if DE Malliciah Goodman can make an impact early on to catapult his senior year.
Gene Chizik's group needs to come out the gate firing on all cylinders. Last season, the Tigers escaped with wins over Utah State and Mississippi State in their first two match-ups. Perhaps they could have used a tune-up game to define where they are with their new offensive and defensive systems. Chizik and his bunch are accustomed to being on the big stage early in the season. They can only hope to pick up where they left off from the last time they played in the Georgia Dome (Defeated Virginia in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl 43-24).
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