Third-ranked Clemson welcomes No. 13 Auburn to Death Valley today at 7 p.m., as the two Tigers met for the 51st time in a series that dates back to 1899.
Auburn has a 34-14-2 lead in the series, but Clemson has won three in a row, including a 19-13 win at Auburn last year. Clemson’s win at Auburn was its first win there since 1951 and it was Clemson’s first season opening win at a school currently in the SEC since 1903.
This will be the fifth meeting in the last eight seasons between the two schools, prior to that they had met just twice—the 1997 Peach Bowl and the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl—since 1971.
Clemson’s offensive line vs. Auburn’s defensive line: This is strength against strength and his perhaps the biggest matchup of the night. Clemson has a ton of experience upfront and is considered to be the best offensive line in the ACC. Last week, the Tigers averaged 8.2 yards per carry (353 yards) in their win over Kent State and none of the three quarterbacks were sacked or even came close to being sacked. Clemson led the ACC last year in the fewest sacks allowed in the regular season. Auburn lost Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson from last year’s front, but this year’s group seems to be just as good and deep. Last week, they held Georgia Southern, who is known for its rushing attack, to 70 yards on 47 carries for an average of 1.5 yards per carry. They also had five sacks. Advantage: Even
Clemson’s defensive line vs. Auburn’s offensive line: Auburn wants to run the football and they will want to run big running back Kamryn Pettway a lot between the tackles. Last Week, the SEC Tigers ran for 351 yards (6.6 yards per carry) in the win over Georgia Southern. Two running backs rushed for 136 yards and scored a touchdown. However, they struggled in pass protection. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham was sacked three times, hit 10 times and pressured 11 more times. That has to improve, especially on the left side of the line, against Clemson. Though the ACC Tigers did not have any sacks last week—Kent State dropped back just five times and challenged Clemson deep just once and did not throw a single pass in the first half—they return three starters from last year’s defensive front that helped the squad have a record 49 sacks in 2016. In the season opener, Kent State averaged just 2.7 yards per rush on 44 carries. Last year, the Tigers held Auburn to a season low 87 rushing yards. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant vs. Auburn’s defense: If Bryant can play like he did against Kent State, then Clemson will win this game. If he struggles then the Tigers could be in trouble. It does not get much simpler than that, right. Bryant opened the season with a great performance against Kent State, but that was against Kent State. The throwing windows will be much tighter and the passes will be more challenged than they were last week. Auburn’s defense is fast and flies to the football. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will throw everything at Bryant and Clemson to shut down the running game. Then, when Clemson is in obvious passing situations, he will bring some exotic blitzes and show different coverages to try and confuse the inexperienced quarterback. Another part of this matchup to watch is the quarterback run. Can Steele stop it? This is the one area where his defenses have struggled in the past to stop when it plays a true running-quarterback. Until he proves to me he can stop it, I’m giving Clemson the edge. Advantage: Clemson
Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham vs. Clemson’s defense: Last year, Clemson shutdown Auburn’s running game because it did not worry about the quarterback situation at all. The Tigers dared Auburn to beat them with pass. That will not be the case tonight because Stidham has an NFL arm. When given the time he can make NFL caliber throws from the pocket or on the run. The Baylor transfer was a little bit rusty in the season opener after sitting out last season, but you have to feel he will be ready to go against the defending national champions tonight. Though Stidham got a lot of experience as a freshman when he was at Baylor, it is safe to say Clemson will be the best defense he has faced to this point. The Big 12 is not known for its defenses and he probably has not been hit as hard as he will be tonight should the Tigers get to him. Look for defensive coordinator Brent Venables to throw a lot of different looks and blitzes on third down or obvious passing situations. Clemson was not challenged from a passing standpoint by Kent State last week so facing Stidham will definitely be a step up in competition for a young secondary that is excited to show what they can do against the pass. Advantage: Auburn
Bottom line: This should be a great game against two teams that are evenly matched. They both run the same offense and they both run the same schemes on defense for the most part. From a talent standpoint they are both similar as well. And the strengths on both sides are the same as well. What does it add up to? A great game … that’s what I’m expecting tonight. However, I’ll give Clemson the slight edge in special teams because of kicker Greg Huegel. He has made those pressure kicks before in big games. Last week, Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson was 2-for-4, but one of his two misses was from 37 yards.
Prediction: Clemson 23, Auburn 20