Auburn at Clemson Game Preview

 

School Auburn University
Nickname Tigers
Athletic Website http://auburntigers.cstv.com/
2011 Record 2-0
2010 Record 14-0
Conference SEC
Head Coach Gene Chizik
Record at School (pre-2011) 22-5
Game Time 12:00 Noon EDT
Television ABC
Radio 104.9 WCCP
Home Stadium Jordan-Hare Stadium
Offense Spread Option
Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn
Defense Multiple
Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof

Clemson's football history against Auburn is not favorable for the Pickens County Tigers.  Auburn leads the series 34-11-2. A lot of those losses are after the ACC began, and instituted tougher academics than the SEC. Clemson is 5-10-1 against the Plainsmen overall and has not beaten Auburn since 1951.  Clemson has been defeated in each of its last 14 games against Auburn.  The two schools do have some recent history with the Tigers falling to Auburn in the '07 (OT), the '98 Peach Bowl, and in last season's overtime thriller.  All other games were played during or before the 1971 season, most of those in the <1920s, and throughout the 40s-60s almost annually.

Here are items from the official Auburn University game preview:

Clemson_auburn_general_facts_medium

As well as some basic statistics per ESPN (note, Clemson stats are in orange, AU in blue):

Clemson_auburn_espn_statistical_comparison_medium

We all know about Auburn in 2010.  The Tigers, led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, ran the table and won the national championship.  This team repeatedly came from behind to win games and, most importantly, improved each week during the '10 campaign.  I believe Clemson was very fortunate to play Auburn early last season...Auburn was a much better team at the end of the season and Clemson was not.  Had these two teams played late in the year, I don't suspect we'd have seen an overtime nail biter.

That was last year.  Auburn lost a tremendous number of last season's starters including Nick Fairley, Cam Newton, and four offensive line starters, among others.  In fact, Auburn returns just seven starters (three on offense, three on defense, and the long snapper) from last year's football team.  The Auburn Tigers return Michael Dyer, Philip Lutzenkirchen, and Brandon Mosely on offense, Nosa Eguae, Daren Bates, and T'Sharvin Bell on defense, and Josh Harris on special teams.

This team will, needless to say, experience growing pains throughout this football season.  This was very evident in the season opener as Utah State was narrowly defeated.  Auburn needed two touchdowns and an onside kick conversion in the final minutes of that one to close out the Aggies.  Here is what Gene Chizik had to say following the close opener (per ESPN):

"Offensively and defensively we're a long way off of being able to win very many games right now.

"As they've done so many times since I've been here, they found a way to come back and win.  That's kind of been instilled in this group that you never look at the clock and the scoreboard until it says zero-zero-zero.

"In that regard, we were thrilled that we won the game today. Everybody who saw the game realizes that we did not play well as a football team. There's no excuse for that."

Head Coach Gene Chizik

Auburn Head Coach Gene Chizik is a Florida graduate who played for the Gators under Coach Pell during the 1981 football season.  He started his coaching career as a Florida high school defensive coordinator before becoming a GA at Clemson in the late ‘80's under "Brother" Bill Oliver and Tom Harper. After a stint at MTSU and back in the I-AA ranks, Chizik became the defensive coordinator at UCF then Auburn then Texas before becoming the head man at Iowa State.  He took the Auburn HC job two seasons later in 2009. 

Here is what Chizik said earlier this week about his time at Clemson (courtesy of www.auburntigers.com)

"I had a great two-year experience there when I got into college coaching with Danny Ford. I'm very thankful that he gave me an opportunity to work with him and a great staff at the time. I have a lot of very fond memories with a lot of great former players there and a lot of great people that are still there. Very fond memories for me personally. It was a great two-year period in my life, and it's a great place with great people; very similar to Auburn."

Gene Chizik's personal defensive philosophy is to play 4-3 STACK/OVER, meaning he keeps the 3 LBs behind the linemen where they are protected. He primarily likes man/man,Robber, much like what we've seen at Clemson. Auburn will, however, play more Tampa 2 and Cover 3 than we show, as Chizik was heavily influenced by Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin.  Chizik has no problem allowing defensive coordinator Ted Roof to be aggressive IF the talent, depth, and experience are present.  Auburn's change in offensive philosophy has forced Chizik et al to be more careful with defensive scheme over the past couple seasons.

Auburn boasts a high profile offensive coordinator in Gus Malzahn who utilizes schemes that one could easily consider "non-conventional."  The War Eagles utilize another popular name in the college football world, Ted Roof, on the defensive side of the ball.

Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Offense

We've discussed Gus Malzahn and his offensive strategy/philosophy extensively here at STS.  Clemson's offensive coordinator, Chad Morris, studied the Malzahn no huddle hurry up offense while at Tulsa and implemented it at Clemson.  Consequently, we studied it at great length over the offseason.  These reviews and analyses, all completely applicable to both the Clemson and Auburn offenses, are collectively linked here.

You'll recall that Malzahn rose from being known as a high school coaching master to further popularizing the Wildcat offense while at Arkansas and now is credited as one of football's most innovative offensive minds. He turned down the head coaching job at Vanderbilt this offseason to stay at Auburn.  His $1.3 million salary is reflective of the respect gained and his importance as an offensive trendsetter.

His philosophy is to spread the field out, use significant motion, and run at you continuously, then hit play-action. All of this is run at a fast no-huddle pace, faster than most no-huddle teams.  He will use a variety of spread formations, an increased pace of play, and innovative strategies to create matchup problems for the opponent.  I encourage everyone to brush up on the Malzahn offense via Dr B's Gus Malzahn/Auburn offensive primer crafted last summer.

Malzahn has been more conservative after replacing Cam Newton and a host of other offensive starters over the offseason.  Malzahn has featured Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb on the ground.  Quarterback Barrett Trotter is not being asked to carry as big a load as his predecessor in the run game. Trotter, for instance, only has nine total credited rushing attempts on the season and I believe three of those were quarterback sacks.  Passing the football, Trotter was 17 of 23 for 261 yards for 3 TDs and no interceptions against Utah St. then was 16 of 23 for 146 yards, 2 TDs and 1 pick six.  Receiving, Junior Emory Blake leads the team with 10 receptions for 203 yards and 2 TDs on the season.  Travante Stallworth had a 39 yard grab against Utah St. and Phillip Lutzenkirchen has two touchdowns on the season.  All in all, the Auburn Tigers averaged 216 yards per game through the air and 156 on the ground.

Auburn has generally taken a few less shots deep this year compared to last, but they follow the same philosophy as Morris does, and will take the shot eventually.

Clemson's Defense

When Clemson is on defense, you will see a mix of base 4-3 and nickel, mostly nickel. Mostly Cover 2 and Man. This is because Auburn, like Clemson, uses base personnel groupings that allow multiple formations out of common players.  These sets vary from "traditional" spread sets (four wide, one back) to two back sets to more powerful formations that incorporates a tight end, wingback, or fullback. 

We recommend this link on the 4-3 against the spread offense, you'll see these things used this weekend.

Rashard Hall's knee injury is concern one for this defense.  You'll recall the junior was hurt midway through the Troy game and was held out against Wofford.  Clemson struggled last week without Hall and needs him this week to hold Auburn at bay.  His injury is not expected to hinder him this week but we'll still be paying attention to assure he looks to be at or near 100%. Cartlon Lewis will back him up.

Brandon Thompson had an excellent game last week.  His efforts were largely overlooked by the poor effort overall by the defense.  Thompson was wreaking havoc all afternoon and was a significant part of Rennie Moore and Andre Branch having the games they had.

Tackling was the big story last week, and from starters, not the young guys.  Kevin Steele addressed this earlier in the week during his press conference and promised that he'd do what is necessary to fix this issue.  Clemson won't win many football games this season tackling like we did the first two games.  I suspect the quality will improve with less substitution and more physical practices.

One thing that goes unnoticed is Auburn's WR/perimeter blocking. That offense scored last season by being able to spring long runs for Newton or the RBs, and WR blocking is a key component of that. Given our DB's problems of not getting off blocks, we're somewhat worried about McCalleb and Dyer getting to the edge on us.

Ted Roof and the Auburn Defense

Ted Roof is well known from his days on George O'Leary's Georgia Tech staff and as the head coach of the Duke Blue Devils in the mid-2000's.  Roof is highly regarded in the coaching community as a defensive mind, just not as a head man.  He was a Broyles Award nominee (best assistant) while at Tech. After being fired at Duke, Roof was immediately hired at Louisville to coach linebackers, then moving to Minnesota as their defensive coordinator.  This is Roof's third season at Auburn. 

I'll go ahead and note that Auburn's defensive statistics look, to the naked eye, very bad.  The defense, in reality, is better than the statistics imply.  These gaudy numbers are inflated because Auburn's offense, by design, attempts to speed up the game.  While this philosophy gives the offense more plays, it also forces the Auburn defense to play more which, in turn, allows for more yards, points, etc...given up by this defense.

Roof utilizes a "Multiple D" strategy at Auburn.  The "Multiple D" employs both 4-3 and 3-4 looks. This is a hybrid-type attack that requires many members of the defense to play at multiple positions. Hence, players are cross-trained to provide versatility at the expense of repetition.  Because of the versatility issue, it can be difficult to find defensive linemen who can play in both a 3-4 (two-gap, double team commanding scheme) and 4-3 (single gap, single block beating scheme). We believe AU's front 4 are very talented, but young, like ourselves. We're not impressed with the LB corps.

Ted Roof has been described as an aggressive defensive coordinator, particularly before he took the job at Auburn.  Roof and the Auburn defense struggled in 2009 due to adjustment to the new scheme, personnel needs, and the amount of time the defense spent on the football field because of the Auburn offense.  In 2010, things turned around for Roof and the AU defense due to more experience within the unit and, particularly, the emergence of Nick Fairley as an unstoppable force on the defensive line.

Replacing the players from 2010 has been a huge chore for Roof.  After simplifying things during spring and fall drills, Roof committed to further streamlining the defense after a poor performance against Utah State.  Quite simply, some talented defensive players were confused during this game and were playing with hesitation.  Thinking too much and playing with hesitation usually gets you beaten. They will stick with their base schemes this week against us.

Auburn's defense has been on the field a lot this season and has given up boatloads of yards.  Last week the defense was on the field for 97 total snaps and 531 yards.  The week before the defense participated in 84 snaps for 448 yards.  The Auburn offense, on the other hand, only took 54 snaps in week 1 and 59 snaps in week 2. Clearly, this is a combination of Auburn's HUNH offense and Auburn's inability to stop its opponent, particularly on the ground.  Combine these items with poor third down conversion attempts (on both sides of the football), and your defense is on the field for a long, long time.

Normally, we would expect Auburn and Ted Roof to become aggressive against Clemson, particularly since the Clemson offensive line has played soft and has obvious issues.  However, Auburn's lack of experience on defense and the associated accelerated learning curve is sapping the aggressiveness from this defense.  Because of this Roof and Chizik openly discussed paring back their defensive scheme and staying elementary until they get better performance out of this group.  I am not leery of overly complex blitzing schemes and aggressiveness out of AU this weekend, but they would be dumb not to try them some. We expect them to be in mostly 4-2-5 against us this week, primarily Man coverage.

Clemson's Offense

Clemson's offensive line will again be a question mark this week.  David Smith injured his shoulder last week before getting verbally abused by Coach Swinney.  Smith is having his shoulder scoped and will not participate in the Auburn game.  Clemson also has issues with Antoine McClain, which we have discussed here at STS for quite some time.  Graduate senior Mason Cloy will start this week and we assume that McClain will play the majority of the game at the other guard.  Cloy's playing time at guard leaves us extremely thin at center. 

We also heard concern over the number of snaps Andre Ellington took the past couple weeks (40 carries on 120 total snaps).  The staff wants to get Mike Bellamy more snaps to take some of the load off Andre and utilize Bellamy's ridiculous talent.  The drawback here is issues typical of a freshman including lack of complete offensive comprehension and trouble in the passing game (pass blocking).  So far this season Bellamy participated in 9 total offensive snaps.  In those nine snaps, Bellamy has 5 carries for 100 yards and a TD...extremely impressive.  I think a goal of 10 carries for Bellamy would be absolutely fantastic.

Quarterback Tajh Boyd improved overall from week one to the Wofford game.  He did show deficiencies identifying where pressure will come from in passing situations.  Watch this week to see how Boyd reacts and if he can get Clemson in proper pass protections and/or check down to a hot route if/when Auburn brings unexpected pressure.  We'll obviously be looking at his decisions on zone reads and down field passes. We expect Morris to be somewhat more conservative than he'd like, because of the pace of install and the OL, but still use more of the playbook than he has in the first two games.

Clemson made a 180 degree turnaround at the receiver position since last season's Auburn game.  Nuke Hopkins and Sammy Watkins have been very impressive through two football games.  Sammy is everything and more as advertised by Swinney and all the recruiting services.  We'll be anxious to see how many carries and receptions Watkins gets Saturday in addition to his return duties.

 

2011 Auburn Schedule (courtesy of www.espn.com)

Auburn_schedule_medium

Auburn vs. Mississippi State Final Drive Highlights

ESPN Auburn/Utah State Highlights

Auburn/Utah State 247 Highlights and Press Conf.

2010 Auburn Season Highlights

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