Posted on September 6, 2017, by Travis Pulver
It is not hard to understand why teams like to schedule soft opponents to start the season. Their own squad still needs to develop and form an identity. It needs to find out what works, what doesn’t, and what can be fixed. During this stage, it can be easy for a good team to make one or two critical mistakes and lose to an inferior but opportunistic opponent.
So, when two top-notch teams—like the No. 13 Auburn Tigers and No. 3 Clemson Tigers – meet this early in the season, we applaud the decision. We appreciate the willingness to put it all on the line this early in the season.
Oh—and we thank them for giving us one of the few games on the weekend slate that looks like it will be competitive and hard fought.
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Historically, whenever these two have met, the game has been close. In the last five meetings between the two, the winner was decided by a touchdown or less. Last year’s early season meeting was decided by just six points (19-13, Clemson).
But it was also the first game of the season for both. This time around, each team has already had a test run. Clemson destroyed Kent State last week, 56-3. Auburn did the same to Georgia Southern, 41-7.
Both displayed the kind of stifling defense coaches dream about having. Clemson allowed Kent State to gain just 120 yards; Georgia Southern picked up just 78 against Auburn. Both offenses clearly clicked with each one gaining around 350 yards. Clemson’s new quarterback, Kelly Bryant, had a solid debut (16-22 for 236 yards, one touchdown, one interception; seven carries for 77 yards and a touchdown). As did Auburn’s, former Baylor quarterback Jarret Stidham.
But Stidham’s was certainly less spectacular (14-24 for 184 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception; nine carries for 17 yards and a touchdown), but it was not bad.
While Stidham did play well, you have to wonder if he didn’t produce better numbers because Auburn focused on running the ball? They were doing so with relative ease, so they can’t be blamed for doing so. But if they are going to beat Clemson, they will need to get more out of him.
“Their defensive front, I believe it’s one of the top in the country, and when you turn on the film, it doesn’t take long to figure that out,” Malzahn said (ESPN). “It’ll be a big test for our guys up front. We’re not only going to have to run the football, but we’ll have to protect the quarterback, so that’ll be a big key to the game.”
So– whose group is better? Who is going to have the defensive front seven that can shut down the other’s run game? Who can move the ball better in the passing game to help keep the running game open?
Auburn certainly needs the win much more than Clemson does. A victory would be a sign to the rest of college football that Auburn is back and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But they are not going to pull it off.
Both teams appear to have a great running game, and each will find some success on Saturday. Auburn will try to keep Clemson’s offense off the field by running the ball as much as they can. The problem they will have is figuring out how to keep the ball moving once the run game bogs down.
Yeah, Jarrett Stidham was recruited by Baylor so you know he can pass, but he has not done much of it in Auburn’s scheme. Try as he might, he’ll struggle to pass on the Clemson defense in the second half (because that will be when Auburn starts to worry about the running game.
Clemson’s offense, on the other hand, will have better luck against Auburn’s defense. They’ll get the ball moving more in the second quarter and will not struggle at all in the second half.
Clemson wins and covers the spread (-4.5).