Yesterday kicked off the weekly Tuesday press conference ritual. It's an age old tradition where reporters deliver softball questions because they can't tick off the hand that feeds them and coaches speak in vague platitudes. Somehow beat reporters are given enough fodder to write cookie cutter articles but there is still a sense of excitement and hope that someone will say something, the right question or a slip of a coach to deliver that gold nugget of information. Thanks to the Internet we can now fully digest everything that happens and hopefully extract enough to make writing and reading about these press conferences worthwhile.
So what happened Tuesday? Since this is the first press conference of the year, the information was really an extension of last week's practice interviews. We did learn that Martin Jenkins is going to have surgery on what is being called a sports hernia. Sounds awful and similar to the injury to Justin Parker (no one asked if this injury was sustained while lifting under the supervision of our S&C staff).
The loss of Jenkins is a blow to our depth at CB and leaves us pretty thin there. Peters has been moved to CB to try and shore up that depth. Dabo had said that Isaiah Battle might have been banged up last week during an interview but today said that he was fine. Giff Timothy continues his quick recovery and will play against Auburn. The Chad pretty much said he would start last week and Dabo said he would definitely play but wanted to see him in full pads these next few days before declaring him the starter.
To have a tiny bit of fun here are a few standout moments:
"Best" question asked of Swinney: Finish this sentence for me I would be surprised if at the end of the game...(reminded me of Colbert asking Cong. Wexler about cocaine and prostitutes)
Best Coachspeak: "You can't let a win create a loss, you can't let a loss create another loss."
Best Swinney story/analogy(in reference to his jubilant outburst last year): People stick a microphone in your face in a moment of euphoria... I'm never going to apologize for celebrate winning. People have a problem with that then that's their problem. If you look a little deeper and you understand, we hadn't beaten Auburn at Clemson in 60 years. We were 0-14. Including back to back overtime losses. On top of that, they are the defending the National Champion and they got the longest winning streak in America. It was a big deal. That's something to be excited about. For a football team that has 42 freshmen on the roster, it's probably the biggest win this program has had in a long long time. It was big for our confidence to take the next step. And then we went on to beat Florida State and Virginia Tech. that's really all it was. I was excited. To end the streak in Death Valley. I was pumped up when I said it. Somebody walks down and puts a microphone in your face, and you look at it and your like 'Oh geez.'But I'll never apologize for being excited.
Swinney was actually quite articulate in his opening statement when talking about the Auburn offense:
They're different offensively from a philosophy standpoint this year. We've had to prepare for what we think they're going to do, but also prepare for what they've done in the past. That makes it a bit of a challenge to prepare for two different systems. Their quarterback, No. 10, has played in big games already. He has played against Alabama and LSU. He was highly recruited. They have some very good skill at the receiver position. I think their tight end is outstanding. 43 is a guy they are going to use a lot of different ways. He's very athletic and can create mismatches. Their running back, he's a homerun hitter. He has the speed to take it the distance and has also been a good return man for them. A lot of people are going to talk about their o-line. They're young like we are, but if you break them down and study them, they're big and talented. They were all highly recruited guys.
The ability of Auburn's QB Kiehl Frazier will obviously go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. Ideally it seems that new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler would like Frazier to simply manage the game and use his legs in the run game but with the loss of All-American candidate Reese Dismukes at Center, he will inevitably need to throw the ball. Last year he had as many interceptions as completions, yes he threw the ball to the opposing team as much as he did to his own players. But he threw for 2,000 plus yards in high school and has a strong arm so its more about his knowledge and understanding of game and can he hit that play action pass over the top of the defense.
Swinney is also right that the O-line has plenty of young talent. Auburn signed the #2 overall Offensive line class in 2011 and have high 4*/5* caliber players in redshirt freshman Greg Robinson (6'6" 311) and true freshman Avery Young (6'6" 295) at left and right tackle. It sounds like redshirt sophmore Tunde Fariyike, who will step in at center, and Robinson still rely heavily on senior John Sullen at left guard for plays and understanding so the line is still mentally a work in progress but athletically possesses all the tools. Without Dismukes it becomes much harder to ram the ball down our throats through the A-gap but I think a larger question mark is at the RB position for Auburn.
Auburn's RB's are listed as Onterio McCalebb (5-11, 168), Tre Mason (5-10, 196), Mike Blakely (5-9, 206) and Corey Grant (5-11, 203). It doesn't seem like they exactly have the personnel yet for their scheme. This may be the toughest part about preparing for Auburn because they might not even know what their identity will be. Swinney did mention 260 pound transfer fullback Jay Prosch who will be a beast to deal with for our linebackers. How much of their old system will they keep for players like McCalebb? Venables puts it like this when talking about Loeffler and his time at Temple:
"He has a very extensive background and he has been at a lot of places. Obviously, he will emphasize the desire to run the football. He has been at places where they run the quarterback. He has been in systems where they run the "I" and the power game. He has also been in systems where they run the counter game and a really strong play action game. They will try to find their true bread and butter and go from there."
Both Swinney and Venables emphasized that this will be a game of adjustments on both sides, a game of 'unknowns' and with three new coordinators that is especially true. Even the Clemson's offense will have a new look and Ellington said today that most of their runs will come out of the pistol formation. My main question is whether or not VanGorder can prepare his defense, with his more complicated scheme--alignments and responsibilities, to adjust to the tempo that Clemson will play at. Morris is serious about 90 plays. Found this nugget from VanGorder:
"Still a long road ahead, and I think that my vision for the season is to see them continue to get better and improve, but we have to play Saturday night so it'll be interesting to see exactly where we are. I anticipate a lot of things in respect to some of those players that are working through the process and trying to gain a comfort in playing big-time ball in a big game like this, but we've got room for a lot of improvement right now."
That last line makes me feel more confident that we will be able to score on their secondary despite their stout D-line and our potential shortcomings on the O-line.