Qualk Talk

No. 2 Clemson at Auburn: By the Numbers

Clemson defense vs. FSU

Clemson kicks off the 2016 football season at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. The Tigers enter the game ranked No. 2 in the country, the highest preseason-ranking in the program’s history.

Here are a few numbers to look for in Saturday’s 9 p.m. (EST) kickoff.

12: Returning All-ACC selections on Clemson’s roster this season. Eight of those players are from the offensive side of the football, including Mike Williams, who made the all-conference team following the 2014 season and missed all but one series of last season due to an injury. Three more are defenders, and one—placekicker Greg Huegel—is a special teams representative. Deshaun Watson has gotten significant hype during this offseason (and rightfully so), but Clemson has more elite players than just the quarterback. Better yet, many of those players were front-and-center last season during Clemson’s run to the national title game, meaning the stage won’t be too big for them this time around.

27: Length of Chandler Catanzaro’s successful field goal try in yards in overtime the last time Clemson visited Auburn, in 2010. The way the rest of the possession unfolded is all too familiar by now: The field goal was wiped out due to an illegal snap, Catanzaro had another chance from 32 yards away, he missed the kick, and Wes Byrum banged home a 39-yarder to give Auburn the victory. That missed opportunity left a bad taste in Dabo Swinney’s mouth, and the former Alabama player and coach has no doubt been salivating at the chance to atone for it on the Plains on Saturday.

37: Consecutive wins for Clemson against unranked opponents. With all the hullabaloo surrounding this matchup with Auburn, this one fact may have been minimized: Auburn represents yet another nameless, faceless unranked opponent for Clemson to face. It isn’t as if Clemson hasn’t squared off against capable unranked adversaries, either, both at home and on the road. Just last season, Dabo Swinney led his team to road wins over Louisville and Miami—both respectable teams and programs. Auburn feels like that caliber of opponent, talented and potent but fundamentally flawed. If Clemson wants to ascend to yet another level as a program, it will need this streak to tag along for the ride.

40: Number of sacks Auburn’s defense has accumulated in the past two seasons. That seems low on the surface, but it looks even worse when contrasted with this stat: In 15 games last season, Clemson sacked the quarterback a whopping 48 times. Brent Venables’ defense eclipsed that number in 2015, as well, racking up 45 sacks as a team. One of Auburn’s strengths is supposedly its defensive line, but many of these same players have been unable to apply any pressure to the quarterback in previous seasons. Carl Lawson will return in this game after missing the 2015 campaign, and Montravius Adams is a talented tackle, but Auburn has to show it can make Deshaun Watson uncomfortable. Otherwise, the night will be dark and full of terrors for the Auburn defense.

80.5: Plays per game for Clemson in 2015. That average ranked among the nation’s best, making the Tony Elliott-Jeff Scott offense one of the most efficient in the country in terms of plays called. One would assume 80 plays is a solid benchmark to watch for in Saturday night’s game on either sideline, but Auburn—one of the programs that has helped revolutionize college football from an offensive standpoint—fell well short of that mark in 2015. Gus Malzahn’s squad only averaged 69.6 plays per game a season ago, putting it at right about the midway point in the SEC. If its efficiency doesn’t improve, Auburn could very well end up with a slew of quick three-and-outs that allow Clemson’s offense to populate the field for a large majority of the game.

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