After all the talk and all the hoopla of the last eight months, the 2016 football season will finally kick off tonight for second-ranked Clemson as the Tigers visit Auburn for a 9 p.m. showdown at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“I have been eager to play and eager to hit someone else,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said. “We have been grinding all off-season, all camp. I’m just ready to actually play a game.”
Though it will actually be a real game, some of it will look familiar, especially for Boulware and the Clemson defense. Auburn runs the same offensive system Clemson runs.
“They are really similar to our offense, which helps us out because we go against the best every day with Deshaun (Watson), Wayne (Gallman) our skills on the outside and our O-line. It is definitely an easy transition for us,” Boulware said. “They will throw in some wrinkles in their offense, but it is pretty similar.”
One area that will not be similar will be at quarterback. Clemson returns Heisman Finalist and All-American Deshaun Watson, while Auburn will start redshirt sophomore Sean White, who beat out Jeremy Johnson and JUCO transfer John Franklin III to win the job.
“He has had a lot of plays where he has been mobile on his feet. I think he has surprised a lot of people,” Boulware said of White. “Sean is starting. If they bring in Franklin or if they bring in (Johnson), they’re all going to be athletic and have a good arm. We are prepared for anything.”
Auburn has to only prepare for one quarterback, but he is perhaps the most dangerous one in the country. Watson became the first player in college football history to throw for 4,000 yards and run for another 1,000 last year. He also accounted for an ACC record 47 touchdown in 2015.
Watson is 18-2 as a starter at Clemson.
Like Clemson, though, Auburn’s defense will be very familiar with what Watson is trying to do.
“The only thing we have to do is execute,” Watson said. “It doesn’t matter if a team knows the same exact play. If you execute the play, then they can’t stop it. So we just have to do what we have to do and focus on that and just let everything fall in place.”
And that’s where it in a game like this, it comes down to the quarterbacks. Whose ever quarterback makes the most plays will more than likely be the team that comes out on top.
“It always comes down to the quarterback no matter if that team is familiar with the offense we run or if they are not,” Watson said. “The quarterback touches the ball on every play. So other than the center, the quarterback is the one who is making the decisions and it getting the balls to the playmakers. Every play is going to come down to me making a decision and making the right one.”
Though Boulware has the benefit of playing an offense that is similar to what he sees every day in practice, Watson does not have that luxury. Auburn runs a different defensive system that what Clemson runs, and former Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is the guy in charge of throwing Watson all sorts of different looks.
Like Alabama did in the national championship game, Steele will walk guys to the line of scrimmage and try to show all sorts of different looks. Auburn will base out of a 4-3, but Steele will show a lot of odd and 3-4 concepts just to try and confuse Watson with his coverages and what blitzes he will be bringing, if any at all.
“He is a great coach so we will have to have the guys disciplined and have the guys ready to go out there and play at a high level,” Watson said. “Each coach is very different so we will just have to see what he brings out on Saturday.”