Okay, here it is. Auburn at Clemson. The season begins much like last year did, except now we’re not playing the defending runner-up, we’re playing the actual defending national champion. It’s not unfamiliar territory for Auburn, who’s played the defending champs six times in the last decade. I can’t imagine the Tigers being distracted by the atmosphere inside Memorial Stadium, even with how nuts it will prove to be as the purpler brand of Tigers rub the rock and run down the hill.
So, what are we looking for tonight? There are quite a few items that you’ll need to pay attention to. It starts on defense.
AUBURN FRONT SEVEN PRESSURE
There are a lot of new starters on that Clemson offense, including guys who are trying to replace Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, and Mike Williams — a 4,000/1,000/1,000 yard combo on offense.
Kelly Bryant’s the guy who’ll pull the trigger for Clemson tomorrow night, but who knows how many actual signals he’ll get to call. In the win over Kent State, he went to his first read quite a lot, and if Auburn can get to him quickly and eliminate that early key, then they can disrupt the offense pretty easily. Clemson averaged over eight yards a carry in their opener, and there’s no way they find such easy plowing against an Auburn defense that held them to their lowest point total in almost three years in 2016. It comes down to slowing down the run game, eliminating the early read, and boxing in Bryant so that he’s unable to escape.
JARRETT STIDHAM + CHIP LINDSEY
Anyone watching the Georgia Southern game probably noticed that Auburn’s offense looked... bland. Like they were looking bland on purpose. It was almost pointed northeast toward Clemson saying “Hey Dabo, look at how little we’re actually going to show you!”
The longest pass that Jarrett Stidham completed was 19 yards. Both of his touchdowns went for that distance. Otherwise, it was run run run, screen screen screen. Win the game, move on to Clemson.
Now we’ll get to see the full complement of Chip Lindsey’s playbook. He had the most explosive offense in the country while at Southern Miss a couple seasons ago, posting 109 plays of 20 yards or more. Auburn didn’t hit a single one of those in the passing game last week, but you can bet the house that they’ll hit a couple tonight.
AUBURN OFFENSIVE LINE - TIME TO SHINE
Part of that tasteless offense in the opener against Georgia Southern was the fact that the offensive line didn’t get a great push in the run game, and had a breakdown or two in pass protection, allowing Stidham to take a couple of shots.
They’ll have a bit of a tougher task tonight, with multiple future first-rounders on the Clemson defensive line. The only problem with Clemson’s great front is that it’s just a front -- there’s not much depth past the fantastic starters.
Seriously, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are going to be rich men very soon, but once you hit the second string, it’s not much to write home about. If Auburn can move the ball a bit in the first half, things should snowball as we reach the fourth quarter. Rushing yards should start coming in chunks as Kam Pettway pounds on the front seven enough to wear them down. All Auburn’s got to do is not give the ball away early, gain some ground in the time of possession battle, and the fourth quarter should be there for the taking.
SPECIAL TEAMS - ALWAYS AN X-FACTOR
Daniel Carlson missed two field goals last weekend. What. The. Hell.
Seriously, that’s almost unheard of. But, it takes the pressure off of him to be perfect and opens the door for him to play loose on the road. It was very nice as well to see Stephen Roberts easily and casually catch punts last weekend. Watching punt returns as an Auburn fan has been an adventure over the past decade or so. Roberts nearly broke a return for a touchdown to open the Iron Bowl last year, and if he did just that at Clemson, it may just open the floodgates.
WEATHER THE STORM
It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be raucous. Clemson is going to be pumped up. Dabo’s going to be doing cheesy Dabo things on the sideline, and the natives will eat it up to become more and more lathered.
If Auburn has an early three and out on offense, or a turnover, or if they fall behind, it can’t be the end of the world. I feel like this team seems loose at the moment, but there can’t be any sulking or the belief that Clemson is about to run away with this thing. Get through the first few minutes of the game (or, more preferably take the lead and quiet that crowd), and Auburn will be just fine.
See, Clemson’s loaded with talent. But we’re not bad either.
“But for heaven’s sake — you’re wizards! You can do magic! Surely you can sort out — well — anything!”
Scrimgeour turned slowly on the spot and exchanged an incredulous look with Fudge, who really did manage a smile this time as he said kindly, “The trouble is, the other side can do magic too, Prime Minister.”
Let’s see some magic tonight, Auburn. War Eagle.