Auburn at Clemson

Sports Xchange

September 06, 2017 at 5:37 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
TV: ESPN
SERIES: Auburn leads 34-14-2. Clemson has won the last three meetings, including in 2016 season opener 19-13.
RANKINGS: Clemson No. 3, Auburn No. 13

PLAYERS TO WATCH
AUBURN

–QB Jarrett Stidham and an up-and-down performance in his first game for the Tigers. The Baylor transfer threw an interception and lost a fumble while being sacked in the first quarter but finished the night 14-of-24 passing for 185 yards and three scores.

–RB Kam Martin saw more playing time than he probably expected. With starter Kamryn Pettway suspended and Kerryon Johnson hurt in the second quarter, the sophomore tied Johnson for game honors in rushing with 136 yards on 14 carries, two fewer than Johnson’s 16. He had a 61-yard run and scored on a 36-yard dash.

–DE Marlon Davidson put his knee problems behind him and had a dominating performance in the opener. The sophomore had two sacks among his career-high four tackles in the win over Georgia Southern.

–FS Tray Matthews had a quiet night with only one tackle, mostly because Auburn’s front seven was in complete control and Georgia Southern hardly threw the ball. That will change at Clemson.

CLEMSON

–QB Kelly Bryant gets the second start of his career after shining in his debut — a 56-3 romp against Kent State. Bryant put up big numbers, passing for 326 yards and a touchdown and running for 77 more and a second touchdown.

–RB C.J. Fuller was workmanlike in his first start last week with 51 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries, but his backups produced even bigger numbers, with Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne averaging 11.5 and 10.1 yards per carry, respectively. It will be interesting to see how Fuller, a junior, fares against Auburn’s stout defense.

–WR Deon Cain, a junior, showed why he was a preseason first-team All-ACC pick in Clemson’s opener, hauling in a 61-yard touchdown pass to jump-start the Tigers’ offense. Cain now has 15 touchdown receptions on only 74 career catches — that’s one score for every 4.93 receptions.

–DT Christian Wilkins is an All-America candidate at defensive tackle after playing all of last season at defensive end. He’ll get plenty of chances to make an early statement against an Auburn rushing attack that posted 351 yards in the opener against Georgia Southern.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

The recent history of the Clemson-Auburn series — as well as the program’s high national ranking this season — suggests that clash at Clemson will be another close one.

The two teams of Tigers kick off at 7 p.m. ET at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium with an ESPN audience looking on.

“It was a very competitive game last year,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, reflecting on his team’s 19-13 win at Auburn, “and we expect the same thing this time.”

Though his team would go on to a 14-1 record and national title while Auburn finished an 8-5 year with a 35-19 loss in the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma, Swinney had high praise for the SEC team.

“They were a complete football team,” Swinney said, “and one of the toughest teams we played all year.”

That game was typical of the recent series. In five meetings over the last 10 years, two went to overtime and all but one was decided by touchdown or less. Each of the games has been filled with drama and intensity, and with No. 3 Clemson meeting No. 13 Auburn, this one should prove no different.

“This shapes up as a really good battle and matchup for us early in the year,” Swinney said. “We like playing these type games, we like seeing where we are. Win or lose, you’re going to find out a little more about your team.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who has come under some fire the last couple of years, sees the game much the same way.

“It will really be a good measuring stick of where we are at from a team standpoint, and that’s my message to the team,” Malzahn said.

The game promises to stand in stark contrast to both teams’ openers. Clemson enjoyed what Swinney termed a “clean” performance in a 56-3 romp against Kent State. Auburn thrashed Georgia Southern 41-7.

Both teams showed an intent to run, run and run some more, and both did so effectively. Clemson amassed 353 yards on the ground — its highest total in 23 games — against Kent State. Auburn rushed for 351.

Although Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson is questionable after suffering a hamstring injury after rushing for 136 yards last week, starter Kamryn Pettway will return after serving a one-game suspension.

Malzahn suspended Pettway, who led the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards per game last season (122.4), along with wide receiver Kyle Davis and backup quarterback Sean White.

Both teams started new quarterbacks in their respective openers and had impressive debuts.

Clemson’s Kelly Bryant accounted for 313 yards of offense and two touchdowns in the first start of his career after replacing two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson.

Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, making his first start after transferring from Baylor, connected on 14 of 24 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns while running for a third.

“We need to build around his strengths and what he feels comfortable with,” Malzahn said. “That’s a big part of the game plan. There is nothing like going out there. You’ve just got to do it. He’s been on the road, I believe, a couple of games he played in, and this will be one of the best environments there is, so it will be good for the future.”

The key may be how each team’s defense fares. Clemson held Kent State to 120 yards last week. Auburn gave up only 78 to Georgia Southern and thwarted the Eagles on all 15 third-down attempts.

“They played extremely hard, which is what stood out to me — outstanding effort,” Malzahn said. “That’s what we will have to do this week. We are playing one of the best offenses in college football right now. We are going to have to be very physical, and we are going to have to play our guts out.”

Clemson boasts one of the top defensive fronts in the nation, anchored by a couple of All-America candidates at defensive tackle in Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence.

“Their defensive front, I believe it’s one of the top in the country, and when you turn on the film, it doesn’t take long to figure that out,” Malzahn said. “It’ll be a big test for our guys up front. We’re not only going to have to run the football, but we’ll have to protect the quarterback, so that’ll be a big key to the game.”