From a defensive standpoint last year, Clemson had little trouble with Auburn.
The Tigers held those Tigers to 262 total yards, including a season-low 87 yards on the ground.
“We just stuck to the game plan and trusted Coach (Brent) Venables and his plan,” said defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
Venables plan last year was to load up the box and dare Auburn to beat them with the passing game. Not sure on his quarterback at the time, Gus Malzahn played five players at the quarterback position that night and the passing game suffered because of it.
Clemson recorded two interceptions and held Auburn to 15-of-30 passing for just 175 yards. However, when No. 3 Clemson hosts No. 13 Auburn on Saturday in Death Valley, Venables will have to have a new plan. He can no longer just stack the box and dare Auburn to throw it.
This year, Auburn has settled on a quarterback as Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham will lead the SEC’s Tigers onto Frank Howard Field for the 7 p.m. kick. Though he looked a little rusty in Auburn’s season-opening win over Georgia Southern last week, the Tigers are expecting him to knock that rust off against them.
One guy who knows what Stidham is capable of is Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. He played against the Auburn quarterback in the Under Armor All-American game when they were both still in high school.
“I thought he was a really good and talented player then, and he has only improved since then,” Wilkins said. “But, yeah, he is a good player, but hopefully we can help get after him a little bit, you know and make plays and play good defense.”
Stidham showed he can run with the ball as well when he ran 14 yards for a touchdown last week on a zone-read concept.
“I knew he could move,” Wilkins said. “He is pretty athletic. Although he does not run all the time, you could definitely tell he has a lot of athleticism and is fast. He can move. He is a pretty good athlete overall, I would say.”
But Stidham is not the only player that makes Auburn different. It also has a new offensive coordinator in Chip Lindsey. Plus, running back Kamryn Pettway did not play against Clemson in last year’s game on the Plains.
“They can throw a lot of different stuff at us,” Lawrence said. “We don’t know what they are going to do. They can come out and do something totally different than they did on film so we have to prepare for a lot of things.
“They have a new offensive coordinator … We have to focus on what they do overall and be prepared for it.”
Auburn still wants to run the ball, and that’s where Pettway comes in. He averaged 122 yards per game in 2016, and at 6-foot, 240 pounds, he will by far be the biggest running back the Tigers see all year.
“He is tough and physical,” Lawrence said. “I kind of like that. I know he is going to bring it every play. We are all going to have to be on our A game. He is not scared. He is physical. He is fast. He is a great guy.”
And if Stidham is throwing the ball well, the offense as a whole is going to be that much harder to stop.
“He is their guy. He is their quarterback,” Lawrence said. “We have to go out there focused and try to pressure him pretty much. We are all looking forward to that challenge as a defense.”