The first week of the season provided more questions than answers for the 2017 Auburn Tigers, victorious against Georgia Southern 41-7.
Jarrett Stidham showed everyone what all the fuss was about in an impressive first career start as Auburn’s quarterback, accurately completing short passes and showcasing his vaunted arm strength on a few difficult throws. Can his few mistakes be attributed to some combination of opening night jitters and rust after almost 650 days between football games, or should fans be concerned about his consistency and what could happen when he faces a tougher opponent? Will Stidham’s protection improve as the offensive line gains experience and coheres, or will the Tigers wilt under pressure against better teams?
Auburn ran for 351 yards against Georgia Southern despite star running back Kamryn Pettway missing the game for disciplinary reasons and capable replacement Kerryon Johnson injuring his hamstring during the second quarter (jeopardizing his availability for the game on Saturday); Kam Martin provided a spark off the bench and showed that he will have a role in this offense going forward even if Pettway and Johnson are both available. Did Auburn deliberately keep its offense simplistic in offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey’s debut to keep its cards close to the vest (preventing Clemson from having ample material with which to prepare), or does Auburn rely too heavily on a rushing attack that can overwhelm defenses to do the heavy lifting? If faced with a team that can bottle up Pettway, will Auburn be able to rely on Stidham to keep the team afloat?
Defensive end Marlon Davidson showcased his rare combination of power, speed, and technique against Georgia Southern, playing his best game since arriving at Auburn; teammates Jeff Holland, Derrick Brown, and virtually every other starter on Auburn’s front seven smothered the Eagles until the game was over. Could Auburn’s defense truly be better than it was last season, or did Auburn’s seemingly dominant defensive front appear better than it really is because the Tigers faced an overmatched opponent with a nonexistent passing game? Will the secondary, untested in Auburn’s opener, able to rise to the occasion against a team like Clemson, determined to throw the ball to a talented bunch of receivers?
Clemson lost several key players from last year’s roster to the NFL Draft, but they still sport one of college football’s most talented rosters; those Tigers dismantled Kent State 56-3 in their season opener. Just like Auburn, Clemson will know much more about its future after the competition gets tougher in Week 2. A win on Saturday would keep Clemson in an excellent position to defend their ACC Championship and return to the College Football Playoff.
At his Tuesday press conference, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said that the Clemson game would give Auburn’s coaches a clear picture of where the team stands. He’s right. Let’s just hope they like the answers, otherwise the questions will get a lot harder.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Auburn’s receivers, who struggled at times to get open and consistently catch the ball against Georgia Southern, will face even more scrutiny if the passing game struggles against Clemson’s secondary. Auburn won’t be able to run the ball if Clemson doesn’t see the passing game as a threat; the reigning champions are too good on the defensive line and boast too many talented defensive backs. Whether one Auburn receiver has a career game or the entire unit steps up isn’t as important as the fact that Auburn will need to be able to move the ball through the air to remain competitive in Death Valley.
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was very good in his first career start against Kent State (16/22 for 236 yards passing with 77 yards rushing), but he was well-protected by Clemson’s offensive line and had open receivers almost every time he threw a pass. If Auburn’s defense can find ways to harass him, things won’t seem nearly as easy in his second start and his lack of experience could show itself.
Auburn’s celebrated kicker Daniel Carlson uncharacteristically missed two field goals in the first game of the season. Nobody’s perfect. Carlson, now the leading scorer in Auburn history, will have many more opportunities to add to his total as the season progresses, but Auburn will need every point it can get against Clemson; a crucial miss in this game won’t be as easily forgotten.
PECK’S PICKS (5-0 last week, 4-1 against the spread; 5-0 this season, 4-1 against the spread)
– TCU 34, Arkansas 28. The Razorbacks rushing attack keeps them in the game as it becomes a shootout, but ultimately TCU QB Kenny Hill is simply too much to handle.
– USC 28, Stanford 17. Trojans QB Sam Darnold continues his quest for the Heisman Trophy, scoring a big conference victory against the always-challenging Cardinal.
– South Carolina 45, Missouri 31. In a battle of perhaps the two most exciting offenses in the SEC East, the Gamecock defense does just enough to allow the team to remain undefeated.
– UGA 27, Notre Dame 21. Bulldogs RB Nick Chubb needs 1601 yards from scrimmage to pass Herschel Walker and finish his career #1 all time in SEC history in that category, and he’ll be several steps closer to breaking that record after he goes up and down the field against a Notre Dame defense that gave up 30+ points in five different games last season.
– Auburn 24, Clemson 23. The 51st meeting between these two programs (and 6th meeting since 2007) goes back-and-forth, with both defenses able to harass and overpower the other team’s offense. Auburn wins it with a late field goal.
Enjoy the games!
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