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Countdown to Kickoff: No. 13 Auburn at No. 3 Clemson

Two national ranked teams that got off to an impressive start to the 2017 season thanks to stingy defenses and productive running games will do battle in Clemson Memorial Stadium on Sat­urday when No. 3 Clemson hosts No. 13 Auburn at 7 p.m.

Clemson opened its season with a 56-3 win over Kent State last Saturday behind 353 yards rushing, while Auburn opened with a 41-7 win over Georgia Southern thanks to 351 yards rushing.

Both teams played well on defense, too. Clemson allowed just 120 yards of total offense, including just one-yard passing and five first downs in its win, while Auburn allowed just 78 yards of offense, including 70 yards rushing against Georgia Southern. The Eagles had eight first downs and were 0-for-15 on third-down conversions.

Game information:

Where: Clemson Memorial Stadium (a.k.a Death Valley)

When: 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 105.5 in the Upstate (Clemson Sports Radio Network)

Latest Line: Clemson by 5.5 points

Three story lines

Can Clemson’s Kelly Bryant throw the ball against an Auburn defense that has plenty of speed? Bryant opened the season with an impressive performance against Kent State as he completed 16-of-22 passes for 236 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed for 77 yards and a score on seven carries. However, let’s keep things in perspective, those numbers came against Kent State. Auburn’s defense will present a different kind of challenge this week. When it’s third-and-long and Bryant has to make a play with his arm, can he do it?

Can Auburn run the football against Clemson’s defensive front? There is no doubt that Kamryn Pettway is a bruiser and he will get his own, but can Auburn live with just running between the tackles. How much will Kerryon Johnson’s absence (likely out with a hamstring injury) impact what Auburn can do in the running game? Johnson is the faster of the two running backs and was used as their wildcat back in that package as well. As good as Pettway is, he isn’t known for having blazing speed and getting around the edges.

Can Auburn protect quarterback Jarrett Stidham? Last week, Georgia Southern sacked Stidham three times, hit him 10 times and pressured him 11 more times in Week 1. If Auburn has any chance of pulling off the upset in Death Valley, Stidham has to have time to throw the ball. Also, Auburn wide receivers Darius Slayton, Nate Craig-Myers, Kyle Davis and Eli Stove have to do a better job of getting off the line and fight to get open against a Clemson secondary that is extremely physical.

Three Auburn players to watch

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham: The Baylor transfer looked a little rusty in his first game after taking last year off. He completed 14 of 24 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also ran for score. But, how much was it rust or how much was it was due to the play calls and the limitations new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey threw in? It was obvious Auburn played very vanilla on offense in Week 1.

Running back Kamryn Pettway: After serving a one-game suspension last week, the junior running back makes his 2017 debut in Death Valley. Pettway led the SEC in yards per game last year, averaging 122 yards per game in 10 games. He also had seven rushing touchdowns.

Linebacker Tre’ Williams: After having a good junior season, the weakside linebacker started his senior year with a team-high 10 tackles, including two tackles for loss, which were both sacks.

Auburn Scouting Report

  • Auburn rushed for 351 yards on 53 carries last week as eight different players carried the football. Auburn led the SEC in rushing last year by averaging 271 yards per game.
  • The SEC’s Tigers like to use the run to set up its play-action passing game. With Stidham at quarterback, Auburn will be able to take more shots down field than it has in recent years.
  • The offensive line has shown areas of weakness in pass protection, especially on the left side of the line where they have sophomores Prince Tega Wanogho (6-7, 301) at left tackle and Mike Horton (6-4, 318) at left guard.
  • The defensive front has two new players, but it did not look like it missed a beat from last year. The SEC Tigers are deep up front and are led by juniors Jeff Holland (6-2, 249) at defensive end and Dontavius Russell (6-3, 310) at defensive tackle. Auburn held Georgia Southern to 70 yards rushing in Week 1.
  • Auburn’s linebackers are the strength of the defense as it returned all three starters—Darrell Williams, Deshaun Davie and Tre’ Williams—from last year unit which ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense. Kevin Steele loves to blitz and bring pressure with these three. You will see all kind of blitz and schemes in hopes of confusing Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant.

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