By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- The reigning National Champion Auburn Tigers will be facing off against Clemson this weekend in Death Valley and although they are missing the key ingredient that made their offense work last season in quarterback Cam Newton, so far this season they’ve looked like the same hardnosed team.
The Auburn Tigers lead this series 34-11-2, including a meeting that ended in overtime last season. Heisman Trophy winner Newton, led the offense with his tough running ability and good decision making, what will the Tigers look like now with their leading man now leading the Carolina Panthers?
“Well they’ve got a new quarterback in Barrett Trotter, and I’ve been watching him since high school,” Dabo Swinney said. “He’s a good player and knows how to win. He’s his own guy and a guy that we have a lot of respect for. Auburn lived off of some big plays last year so we’ve got to be very smart and negate that, and that goes back to knowing who’s on the field and where they are and what they do out of those sets.”
Although you won’t see Trotter running the quarterback power or counter like they would with Newton last year, Swinney has told his defensive staff over and over again that they’ve got to be prepared for Trotter to try to run the ball.
“He’s an adequate runner; he can hurt you especially when we didn’t tackle the quarterback very well last week, I’m sure he’s seen that and he’ll try his luck running against us.” Swinney said. “The biggest difference though is the scramble. There were some plays where you’d play great defense and then this guy is just better than yours and he’ll scramble for 30 yards, that’s just called recruiting there.”
This week’s match up will be an interesting one mainly because Clemson’s new offensive coordinator Chad Morris was taught his spread style offense by Auburn’s now offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan when they were both coaching at the high school level. Auburn runs a similar spread style, fast paced, physical offense to the offense that Morris is implementing here at Clemson.
Although they are missing Newton, the Tigers have several players with game experience back for the 2011 season including running backs sophomore Michael Dyer and junior Onterio McCalebb. Trotter will also have a veteran receiver in junior Emory Blake who has at least one touchdown catch in the last five consecutive games.
The defending National Champions are known for making critical big plays in order to win football games, and that’s something the Clemson Tigers know very well, as they led Auburn going into halftime in their 2010 meeting 17-0 only to eventually lose 27-24 in overtime.
The Tigers are averaging around 41.5 points and 372.5 yards per game. Like the Clemson Tigers they are a very young team, playing 13 true freshmen in their first two games of the season. First year starting quarterback Barrett Trotter has been very efficient so far this season completing 33 of 46 passes over the last two weeks, making him 4th in the SEC and 17th overall in the NCAA in passer efficiency.
Sophomore running back Michael Dyer who had a break out freshman year last season, rushing for over 1,000 yards is on his way to becoming just the fourth Auburn player to post consecutive 1,000 yard rushing seasons.
“They’ve got some playmakers in 23, 80, 5, and 43,” Swinney said. “They are going to run their offense through those guys so we better know where they are at all times. Without Cam Newton running their offense Malzhan is calling a few things differently, but so far they’ve lived on the big play and have found a way to win. In order to beat these guys, we’ve got to find a way to stop the run and making them have to go the distance. We also have to prevent them from making big plays.”
Advantages for Auburn against Clemson’s Defense–
One of the main advantages for Auburn going against Clemson’s defense is that they are very capable of making big plays, something that Clemson saw last year when the two Tigers faced off against each other. Although Trotter is a first year starter at quarterback, he has several offensive weapons back this season in Dyer, McCalebb, and Blake.
Another advantage for the Tigers is the fact that they have been running Gus Malzahn’s spread style offense for three years and therefore they are more familiar with it than Clemson is at this point and time. Because of this, Auburn will most likely be working at a faster pace than Clemson’s offense and playing more physically.
A third possible advantage for Auburn would be the fact that safety Rashard Hall, who was injured during Clemson’s opener versus Troy, will be back for the Auburn game Saturday but will be playing with a brace on his knee, and although he has been practicing with the brace, no one will know if it will affect his ability to run and cover a receiver until Saturday.
Advantages for Clemson’s Defense against Auburn’s Offense-
A few players on Clemson’s defense have had problems tackling so far this season so this can be taken as an advantage or a disadvantage for Clemson’s defense. Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele reassured the media on Tuesday that tackling would not be a problem versus Auburn and that he would go back to his old school ways of coaching, so we’ll have to wait until Saturday to see if going back to his old approach of teaching tackling will work for Clemson or not against Auburn’s speedy offense.
Although Clemson’s coaches and players have all said that Auburn will be a difficult team to beat with or without last year’s Heisman Trophy Winner Cam Newton, I think it’s safe to say that Newton not being in the lineup is a definite advantage for Clemson. Newton was a double threat for Auburn last season, he run the ball like a running back and could throw it accurately too, which is something they’ll be missing this season whether they want to admit it or not.
Here’s what Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele had to say about Newton and what he’s seen from their offense so far this season.
“Obviously, you’re talking about the Heisman Trophy winner, probably the best player in College football last year,” Steele said. “You can’t replace a guy like that, but their offense doesn’t look any different. They’ve got players, good players, and they’re well coached in that regard, they’re just doing it a different way.”
Another advantage that Clemson defense does have on Auburn is lining up our defensive front against their offensive line. Like Clemson’s, Auburn’s offensive line has struggled so far this season in playing physically and converting critical third downs. The Tigers are starting a freshman at center and a redshirt freshman at right tackle, this being said Steele’s defense may be able to get more pressure on the quarterback than they would with going against a veteran group.
A third advantage for Clemson’s defense lies at the quarterback position. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is a first year starter however he has a little more game experience than Auburn’s Barrett Trotter. Trotter being a first year starter and playing in a loud environment like Death Valley, he may crack under pressure from Clemson’s defense causing turnovers.
Playing at home in Death Valley is definitely an advantage for Clemson’s defense. With the Auburn game being the first big game of the season for the Tigers, the fans, coaches, and players are very excited for Saturday at noon. The atmosphere at Death Valley is indescribable, like no other college football stadium, and the Auburn Tigers will soon figure that out for themselves.
The biggest advantage for the Clemson defense is that the 2010 Clemson @ Auburn game still replays in their mind, and losing the game that they thought they had won was very disheartening for the Clemson team. Although the several players that I spoke with on Tuesday said that they weren’t looking for revenge on Saturday for their 2010 overtime loss, they did say that they learned a lot from playing Auburn last season and that they’re a different team in 2011, and ready to prove that they can compete with anyone.