This morning in Coach Swinney's press conference it was clear the focus is squarely on one thing right now, Auburn. This is a team that will come into Death Valley this Saturday riding a 17-game win streak having found a way to beat everyone under the sun over the last 12 months. In order to snap that streak, Dabo's squad is going to have to be more physical, and assert itself on both the offensive and defensive fronts.
We just have to do it. We have to play. We did some good things. We're not where we need to be. We've done it before. We just have to improve. We do have to be physical if we want to be a championship team. We have to have more of the good things consistently. That's the whole key to us. I've seen us to do it. That's my point. We've got video evidence. If you ask Auburn who the most physical team they played last year, we'd be in the top two or three. I saw coach Chizik last year at the end of the season and he said we were the most physical team they played.
Perhaps this was the case, and we were the most physical team Auburn faced all last season, but having watched Clemson in its first two games this season you don't really get that impression. How will the Tigers respond against its first quality opponent of the season, on national tv, in front of a sold out crowd? We want to see a Clemson squad that can win a game in the trenches, something that hasn't been evident in a long time. In his press conference this morning, Dabo was asked if this was something that could be accomplished.
We'll get after it today and tomorrow physically. Our guys are confident and we match up well with these guys physically. Execution was the problem for us last year.
On the defensive side of the ball, Saturday's success is going to come down in large part to being able to stuff the Auburn rushing attack. The numbers the Tigers have put up through two games are not exactly great, and sit at 107th in the entire country in rushing defense. Granted, Clemson faced a predominately option attack last Saturday, but that statistic is still alarming.
Defensively, we have to play with a lot of poise. We are going to have to stop the run. We have to tackle better than we've done these first couple weeks.
On the other side, Clemson's offensive output thus far has been a little deceiving. Dabo pointed out this morning how many yards the offense has put up two games into the season, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Through two games, Clemson's offense is in the bottom half of the country in three critical categories:
Third down efficiency (70th)
Red zone efficiency (108th)
Time of possession (89th)
These three areas will have to be corrected if we are going to win football games, especially against an SEC team like Auburn that hasn't lost a ball game since 2009.
We're doing some different things, so there has been some hesitation. That's some of it. But at the end of the day we've had 900-something yards of offense. It ain't all bad. We're leaving a lot of meat on the bone. You see the opportunity for 500-yards of offense, yet we still left a lot on the plate.
Dabo seems to think, and perhaps rightly so, that this game could be a huge momentum game for the Tigers if they can come out with a win. It stands as an early barometer on how the season will play out, especially with the two game stretch following Auburn. Get a win Saturday and Clemson sits at 3-0, with potentially #1 or #2 Florida State coming into Death Valley.
It's an opportunity for momentum. The first year, the win at Miami was a big win. It created momentum for us. We came back and won our division. I really believe that win created that belief and momentum in our team. It's early and we don't know a lot about this team yet. We have a lot to find out about ourselves. The only way you do that is to go play. Statement game? I don't know about that. I just think it's a great opportunity for us.
Turnovers, or at least for the most part, lack of turnovers so far in the season, was also addressed. Clemson ranks 30th in the nation in turnovers lost with two, and will have to be sound with the football on Saturday. Potentially, part of the reason for this has been that Chad Morris hasn't put Tajh in a position where he has had to throw a large number of low percentage throws. Tajh must still be smart with the ball moving forward, including cutting down on mental mistakes, making sure we have the proper protection package, and doing a better overall job reading the defense and recognizing blitzing situations presnap.
I keep saying it; you take care of the ball and have big plays on offense, you'll win 98-percent of the time.
Dabo points out that preparing for this Auburn team will be a little different without Cam Newton at the helm. At this point, they don't anticipate a guy under center in 2011 that is going to be able to scramble for 30-40 yards at a time. We believe that Steele's scheme last year was solid, but he is still going to rely on production out of his front four if we want to stop, or at least slow down, this Auburn attack.
The biggest different is that they're not calling a lot of quarterback-type power runs. Watching him on film myself, as they went through the season, they really involved him more once they figured out they had something special there.
The most telling quote of the press conference was this:
We have to continue to play [Cloy] him. Robbie has a good feel for those guys. He has been coaching the o-line a long time. The guys who are starters are the guys who earned the right to go out there first. Mason isn't far off from that group. He may end up being in that group. We'll see. That's why we practice everyday. You're always evaluating personnel.
I'm not so sure about that Dabo. The offensive line's performance thus far has been sub-par. Antoine McClain, if he continues to not produce at right guard, needs to be replaced. Dabo can't continue to play favorites if other players like Cloy could potentially step up and have more production at the position. We need to get the toughest five guys on the field that are going to punish this Auburn defense. These players are not to be treated as a group of professors that should be granted tenure, if they aren't producing, well then find someone who will, or the same problems that led to a 6-7 season last year, are going to continue to plague this team in 2011.