Auburn survived its first test on the road two Thursdays ago in a 17-14 win at Mississippi State.
Clemson has whipped through two glorified scrimmages.
They meet up on the Plains this Saturday night in a game that should be revealing for both teams. SEC blogger Chris Low and ACC blogger Heather Dinich take a closer look at this battle of Tigers.
Chris Low: Heather, I say we dub Saturday’s Auburn-Clemson matchup the Lewis Grizzard Bowl. He’s the late Southern humorist and Atlanta newspaper columnist who once said Clemson was “Auburn with a lake.” He nailed it, because the number of similarities between the schools is uncanny. It’s only fitting that they resume a series that was played fairly regularly when Ralph “Shug” Jordan was coaching at Auburn and Frank Howard at Clemson. As I look at this game, right off the bat I wonder if Clemson is ready for the pace of game Auburn wants to play. There’s no such thing as playing too fast for Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who wants to run as many plays as he possibly can.
Heather Dinich: C-Low you’re not the only one wondering that. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows his team hasn’t been tested yet like it will on Saturday. Wins over North Texas and Presbyterian aren’t exactly bowling over any Top 25 voters. One of the biggest keys to this game for Clemson will be stopping the run, and that’s something the Tigers struggled with last year -- just ask Georgia Tech, who rushed for over 300 yards twice last season in wins over Clemson. Of course, Clemson will also have to keep Auburn quarterback Cam Newton in check. We know Newton can run deceptively well for his size, but how good of a passer is he? Will he be able to win the matchup against All-America safety DeAndre McDaniel?
CL: Newton hasn’t had to beat anybody yet throwing the football, and while he has an incredibly strong arm, it’s fair to say that we’ve yet to see how accurate he is when it comes to throwing the ball down the field. Malzahn will take whatever the defense is giving him, and having a 250-pound quarterback like Newton who can run makes Malzahn’s spread offense that much more effective. He’ll run a reverse pass on one play, a bubble screen on the next and then try to hit you deep. In other words, Malzahn is going to make you defend everything, but he’s never going to stray too far away from the run. Even though Newton is leading the Tigers in rushing through two games with 241 yards, running backs Onterio McCalebb and Mike Dyer are both averaging more than 6 yards per carry. If I were Clemson, Heather, I’d get ready for a heavier dose of Dyer, the Tigers’ prized freshman.
HD: No doubt, C-Low, and I talked to coach Dabo Swinney on Wednesday about how the Tigers plan to counter all of the misdirection, play fakes and talented runners. He said they’re preparing for the tempo you mentioned, which he compared to a 2-minute drill the whole game. The Tigers have to do a great job with their rush lanes, stay disciplined with their alignments, tackle well, and do a good job of disrupting that flow by winning first downs and getting them out of their comfort zone. Expect McDaniel to be lined up all over the field. Clemson might even have the edge up front with its defensive line now that defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins is back.
But hey, it’s not like Clemson doesn’t have some talented runners of its own. Haven’t you heard about “the New Storm”? Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper helped Clemson average 9.8 yards per rush against North Texas. I know Auburn’s run D is good, but has it really been tested?
CL: No, Auburn’s run defense hasn’t been tested. Arkansas State picked Auburn apart with short passes in the opener, and then Ted Roof’s defense bounced back against Mississippi State and was outstanding in the second half when the offense started to sputter. Mississippi State’s running game, though, is not one of the better ones in the SEC, at least not with Anthony Dixon no longer around. The best news for Auburn in the Mississippi State game was junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley stepping to the plate and playing the game of his life. He was a dominant force in the middle with 2.5 tackles for loss, an interception and fumble recovery. The Tigers aren’t going to get that kind of production from him every game, but they’re so much better against the run if he’ll come to play like that every game. A major concern remains depth at linebacker. Josh Bynes played every snap against Mississippi State. He’s a good one, but you know that has to catch up with you at some point in the fourth quarter.
HD: Indeed it does. It sounds like we’ll find out a lot more about both of these teams on Saturday. Of course, there’s another record on the line Saturday as well -- my picks. I know you were puffing your chest up a bit last year after boosting your prediction percentage with all of those Florida and Alabama picks, but it’s time to even the score this year. I’m playing it smart on Saturday, and sticking with the home team, Auburn. I think Auburn will get pressure on Kyle Parker and win the battle up front. Then again, Clemson seems to be at its best when the least is expected -- and right now, not much is expected from anyone in the ACC.