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Friday, September 17, 2010

Auburn-Clemson: Who has the edge?

We're back with everyone's favorite Friday blog post (because it's usually the only Friday blog post). I thought last week's breakdown format worked well, so I'll keep doing it that way. And away we go ...

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Clemson at No. 16 Auburn
  • Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium
  • When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
  • Records: Clemson 2-0, Auburn 2-0
Clemson passing game vs. Auburn secondary
As a redshirt freshman, Kyle Parker threw for 2,526 yards and 20 touchdowns and completed 55.6 percent of his passes. That's not bad. He's picked up where he left off, with 283 yards, four touchdowns and a 55.7 completion percentage so far this year, albeit against inferior competition. But he's got a big arm and should be able to put the ball places Auburn's first two opponents couldn't. It should be noted that the team's leading returning receiver (Terrance Ashe) caught only 11 passes for 124 yards last season, so it's a fairly new receiving corps Parker is working with. Although tight end Dwayne Allen is a talented player. The Tigers rebounded well against the pass against MSU, holding the Bulldogs to 129 passing yards. But they had some penalty issues and gave up a few big conversions. One has to wonder how much MSU's drops, including the killer one at the end, helped Auburn out. Edge: Clemson.
Clemson running backs vs. Auburn linebackers
You don't replace C.J. Spiller with any one player. So Clemson isn't trying. Four different running backs have gotten a good share of carries early in the season -- Andre Ellington, Jamie Harper, Roderick McDowell and Daniel Barnes -- and all are averaging 7.2 yards or more a carry. Ellington is a shifty, quick back and Harper is the bruiser of the two. Both ran for more than 400 yards last year, so they're not new to the scene. Auburn may or may not have Craig Stevens back from a team-imposed suspension. Head coach Gene Chizik has been mum on the subject. But the Tigers' outside linebackers have stepped up in his absence. Eltoro Freeman leads the team with 15 tackles; Daren Bates is second with 13. Add All-SEC MLB Josh Bynes to the mix and that's been a solid group so far. Edge: Auburn.
Clemson offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
This should be one of the best matchups of the game. LT Chris Hairston is a preseason All-ACC pick and C Dalton Freeman is on the Rimington Award watch list, so Clemson's got a talented, big group up front that averages a shade over 6-foot-5, 313 pounds across the board. They've allowed only one sack in two games. But Auburn's defensive front has been a boon the first two weeks. DT Nick Fairley was a one-man wrecking crew at MSU, hitting for the cycle with 2.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and interception. But Tracy Rocker's crew has been getting solid play from reserve tackle Mike Blanc and starter Zach Clayton as well. Rocker wants better play out of his ends -- Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans -- although they still have 4.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks this year. Edge: Push.
Auburn passing game vs. Clemson secondary
Cam Newton has run the ball so well that the passing game has taken a backseat in the first two games. But Newton has still completed 60.6 percent of his passes in two games, going 20-for-33 with five touchdowns and one interception that he forced into double coverage against MSU. The Tigers' are still waiting for their veteran receivers to have a huge game. Darvin Adams has five catches for 96 yards through two games, but coaches know he'll be productive. Besides Terrell Zachery, no other receiver has more than two catches. Clemson has one of the best in the nation at safety in DeAndre McDaniel, a preseason All-American who leads the team with 15 tackles in two games. The Tigers' two cornerbacks -- Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxell -- are both seniors, so they've been around long enough to see it all. Edge: Clemson.
Auburn running backs vs. Clemson linebackers
Who's the No. 1 guy for Auburn? How about nobody? It seems like it might be a situation where carries get spread around this year. Yes, coaches seem very high on freshman Mike Dyer, who go the nod when Auburn needed to kill the clock at MSU, but they've used Onterio McCalebb a lot early in games and likely won't leave that kind of speed option on the bench. As for Mario Fannin, they claim he's still the No. 1 guy at tailback, but the carry division the first two games doesn't suggest that. Everyone will be able to tell after this game if he's actually a tailback or the coaches envision him as an H-back. Linebacker could be the weak spot of the Clemson defense, which got gouged by the run on a couple of occasions last year. Brandon Maye should be back after missing the first two games following knee surgery. He made 103 tackles last year. The other two -- sophomore Corico Hawkins and redshirt freshman Quandon Christian -- don't have that experience yet. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. Clemson defensive line
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has yet to see the physical unit he wants his group to be this year. Thankfully for him, LT Lee Ziemba appears to be healthy after last week's right knee injury. With him protecting Newton's blind side, Auburn can open up its offense a bit more. Despite the mild criticism of the line, the Tigers are still averaging 5.9 yards per rush. Although that's buoyed by Newton's scrambling, McCalebb (6.9 ypc) and Dyer (6.2 ypc) have good averages. Except for Ricky Sapp, a draft pick by the Eagles, Clemson returns its entire front. DE Da'Quan Bowers is on every major watch list and has two sacks already this year. DT Jarvis Jenkins is a first-team All-ACC pick who made 69 tackles last year and has three TFLs this year. Through two games, Clemson's d-line has 14 tackles for a loss and seven sacks. (Upon further review, despite all that talent, Clemson is 85th nationally in rush defense. That ain't good.) Edge: Auburn.
Clemson return units vs. Auburn coverage teams
Auburn can thank its lucky stars it doesn't have to contend with Spiller in the return game. Gilchrist has been the man in the return game. He's averaged 23.8 yards on four punt returns. Auburn has reinforced its return units so far, getting excellent coverage from players like Craig Sanders (four tackles) and Emory Blake (two tackles). But the Tigers haven't gone up against a premier returner yet. Auburn still isn't getting the ball the end zone on kickoffs, so it will have to get down there and make some plays. Until it does it against a really good returner, I'm still somewhat skeptical. Edge: Clemson.
Auburn return units vs. Clemson coverage teams
Quindarius Carr had some trouble on his first attempt last week, muffing a punt and turning it over. But he managed to catch the rest. On seven attempts, he has an 8.3-yard average. That's still better than last year. Demond Washington, meanwhile, has averaged 27.1 yards on seven kick returns. He's looked like he's been close to breaking a few too. Clemson punter Dawson Zimmerman leads the nation in punting, averaging 49.8 yards per punt. The Tigers' kickoff coverage has been average. Slight edge: Clemson.
Wes Byrum missed his first field goal in almost a year against Mississippi State. Although, it's not like he pulled it or pushed it. It was blocked. Not sure if that was a result of pressure of a low kick. Still, Byrum has been deadly accurate in the last year. Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro is 1-for-1 on the year, making a 47-yarder. It's the redshirt freshman's first year kicking but he's shown a strong leg. Edge: Auburn.
Both coaches haven't been at their current schools for too long, but they've both won over the fan bases. Chizik did it with an 8-5 season and strong recruiting class. Clemson's Dabo Swinney did it by doing what Tommy Bowden never could: winning the Atlantic Division title in his first full year. Both schools ponied up the money in the offseason to keep their valuable coordinators (Auburn with Gus Malzahn on offense, Clemson with Kevin Steele on defense) and are probably better off for it. The only edge I find here is that Chizik has been pretty good at home. Slight edge: Auburn.
The more you look at the breakdowns, the more you find that these are pretty evenly matched teams. Both have strong quarterbacks. Both have plenty of talented skill players. Both have experienced offensive lines. Both are strong in their front seven. And both have a questionable spot on defense (the secondary for Auburn; the linebackers for Clemson). This isn't doing much to dispel the notion that these two schools are basically the same place. In the end, I'll give Auburn a slight edge. It seems to play better at home and has actually been tested this year. Clemson, for all anyone knows, might not be as good as it record indicates after playing two easy games to start the season. Prediction: Auburn 31, Clemson 23.


SteveFC said...

Nice breakdown. Thanks Andy.

easyedwin said...

4 Edges for AU and 4 Edges for CU.......hmmm, how is that not a DRAW?

Andy Bitter said...

Not all edges are created equal.

Anonymous said...

you were actually quite generous with your assessment of us (clemson). we are a poor run stopping team and even more so when the qb is mobile. i expect that you (auburn) will win pretty easily.

Andy Bitter said...

It was hard to judge Clemson, just because it hasn't played anybody yet. In fact, that's what the subject of tomorrow's game advance is going to be about.

MikeP said...

Great breakdown, Andy. Clemson could well win this game. I look for it to be close enough that if one team gets a couple of breaks (or makes a couple of mistakes), that will sway the outcome.

50yrAUfan said...

Good job Andy. Here's a tie breaker: Dabo's record as a player and coach in Jordan-Hare ? It's 1 win and 4 losses. I like our chances for win number 5. (Had to dig deep for any edge I can get)

Anonymous said...

Andy, great breakdown of both teams. I'm an Auburn alumn that stumbled upon your article searching the web. You did your research and this was the most informative piece of analysis of the game I've read.

Anonymous said...

Dangit Why won't anyone spill the beans about Craig Stevens and the cornerback who aren't playing games...how is Stevens on an award watch list and not playing ???