A big thank you to Walt for indulging us in this early Q&A about his university and Clemson's first opponent. Enjoy and please leave comments and questions in the section below.
We'll keep it high-level in this early Q&A series, so I start with a question about the Auburn football program.
The Plainsmen have won 12, 8, and 7 games in their past three seasons. Interestingly, in the three seasons prior to the Malzahn era they won 14, 8, and 3 games. Do you see Auburn reversing course or do you think there will be another new head coach in Auburn soon?
I do see Auburn reversing course. The problems in the Malzahn era so far have been so varied that it's not impossible to correct. The issue in 2014 was the defensive collapse down the stretch. The offense still scored 30+ in all but 2 games. In 2015, the QB position was just hot garbage. Sean White started looking comfortable (he was a redshirt freshman, after all), but just when everything was clicking with him, he goes and gets hurt.
If this team finds a QB, they'll be just fine. The defense will be much improved and the offense should be better if Malzahn gets back to his tempo, no substitutions to slow things down, and the QB play improves.
Auburn had the 34th ranked defense in the S&P+ a season ago. What changes do you expect to see from the defense, if any, to move them up the ranks?
I don't really expect too many changes in the defense, honestly. I think that's one reason Gus Malzahn targeted Kevin Steele. His defensive style resembles Muschamp's a good bit. This is a defense that has been through multiple coordinators, so they needed some consistency. Having Carl Lawson healthy is a big key, too. This is the first time in a long time that I've been able to look at Auburn's depth at DL and DB and say "ok, we've got a number of guys on the 2-deep I'm happy with." Linebacker, though, that's a different story.
Either way, I don't expect much to change in the way Auburn plays. I just think (or hope) that they'll take everything up a bit to the next level. I look to two things to help ease my mind on the D: the first half against Louisville and the bowl game against Memphis. Those were the only two times Auburn had a fully healthy defense. Even in the bowl game, though, a starting LB got hurt, early. When the defense was healthy and on the same page, they were good. I think they can be great.
What can Auburn's defense do to slow the Deshaun Watson offense?
I think the defense will be improved (as noted above), but Watson is a special player, and mobile QBs have given Auburn fits over the last few seasons. I think it'll come down to how well the defensive line can get pressure and try to take him out of his comfort zone.
Clemson's defense is going to be particularly strong up the middle and I believe very stout against the run. Where their weakness may lie is against the pass. Do you think Auburn can and do you think they will attack Clemson with a surprisingly pass-heavy attack?
How Auburn attacks Clemson will depend on the QB. If it's Sean White, I could see a more pass-heavy attack. Sean is a very accurate passer. I think Gus will want to stick more to the ground game, though. If the power runs up the middle aren't there, then I expect Auburn will attempt more speed and buck sweeps along with quick screens in an attempt to open things up. The passing game will definitely be a part of it, sure, but, again, that depends on who is behind center.
If you'd like to see our answers to Auburn's questions, click here.