Now the real fun begins.
Clemson’s 56-3 victory over Kent State on Saturday was impressive, but let’s be honest. Didn’t we expect that to happen?
As Dabo Swinney likes to say, “You have to forget about what happened in the past and look at what is in front of you.” And what the fifth-ranked Clemson Tigers are staring at is a 12th-ranked Auburn team that all of sudden might be the Tigers toughest test of the season.
Granted, the Tigers have to go to No. 16 Louisville on Sept. 16 and to No. 21 Virginia Tech on Sept. 30—and neither is a pushover—but with Deondre Francois out for the season with a knee injury down at Florida State, the SEC’s Tigers look like the most complete team Clemson will face.
Like Clemson, Auburn was impressive in its rout of Georgia Southern over the weekend. Jarrett Stidham threw for 185 yards and two scores in his first game as a starter there, while also rushing for a score. Running backs Kam Martin and Kerryon Johnson both rushed for 136 yards and one touchdown, while the defense held the Eagles to 78 total yards.
So now the fun truly begins. We should find out more about Kelly Bryant as he goes up against an SEC defense, which outside of Alabama, might be the best in that conference.
Granted, Auburn did lose some outstanding players on the defensive front, but virtually everyone else is returning on defense, including a linebacking corps that is one of the best in the country. Also, let’s not forget—as much as Clemson fans will hate to admit this—no one defended Clemson better last season than former Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. His defense held the Tigers to a season-low 399 yards and a season low 19 points.
There are a few unknowns on the offensive side of the football about Auburn. The SEC Tigers did not show much against Georgia Southern so you know there is a whole bunch of its offense, and its plans for Stidham, head coach Gus Malzahn will unveil this coming Saturday in Death Valley.
I’m sure Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and company held some things back as well, but Stidham is the wildcard this week because Malzahn has never had a quarterback with Stidham’s arm strength and accuracy in his system before. Auburn still looks like a run-first team, but now they have a quarterback who can stretch the field vertically and could possibly move the football with his arm if the running game is shutdown.
Let’s not forget, Clemson held Auburn to a season-low 87 rushing yards last season, but the ACC’s Tigers just loaded up to stop the run and dared Auburn to win the game through the air. Auburn couldn’t as it completed just 15-of-30 passes for 175 yards with two interceptions.
I’m sure Brent Venables game plan will be the same this coming Saturday in Death Valley, but if Stidham can answer it and make those tough throws, then all of sudden Auburn becomes a tough team to stop.
As we know, Auburn is no walk in the park, and at least on paper, it appears to be the most complete team Clemson will see all season. So after Clemson’s warm up against Kent State, now the real fun begins.