Clemson fans will finally get to see first-hand what this year’s squad has to offer when the Tigers kick off their season Saturday night against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. After the offseason speculation, scrimmages and practice reports, the time for predictions and guessing is finally over. There are plenty of questions and story lines for the defending ACC champions entering Saturday night. Clemson fans will be eager to see how well they perform on both the offensive and defensive lines against a quality SEC opponent, especially since they replace three linemen on both sides of the ball. Tiger nation will also be hoping the team improves on Clemson’s not so stellar record in the Georgia Dome, where the Tigers are only 2-5 since their first appearance there in 1993. However despite all the question marks and uncertainty facing this Clemson team there are reasons to believe that this year’s season opener will result in a Clemson victory.
Clemson clearly has the advantage in offensive playmakers even without the suspended Sammy Watkins. Junior wide receiver Deandre Hopkins currently ranks second in the ACC in career receiving yards among active players and will likely be a frequent target for Quarterback Tajh Boyd’s. He has great hands and is the best route runner of all the wide receivers on the team. Sophomore Wide Receivers Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake are both big wide receivers with great speed that are dangerous deep threat options, and are both capable of stretching the field. Senior Running Back Andre Ellington is the leading active ACC player in terms of rushing yards (2,355), rushing touchdowns (25), and 100-yard rushing games (9). If he has even a little bit of running room, Ellington is more than capable of breaking off a big play. For Auburn, running back Onterio McCalleb has explosive speed but doesn’t have ideal size to be an effective rusher between the tackles. Emory Blake may be Auburn’s biggest threat at wide receiver while tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen offers great hands and loads of experience. However there are questions as to whether or not quarterback Kiehl Frazier can consistently make plays in the downfield passing game. Clemson clearly has an advantage when it comes to the number of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. The challenge will be if an inexperienced offensive line can provide Boyd with enough time to execute. Auburn will feature one of the best defensive lines Clemson will face this season. Led by Junior Defensive Tackle Corey Lemonier (9.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles in 2011), stopping the Tigers will be a challenge Clemson’s inexperienced offensive line. However, if the Tigers can provide quarterback Tajh Boyd with enough time, Clemson clearly has an advantage when it comes to the number of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.
While Clemson enters its second season under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Auburn will be breaking in new coaches on both sides of the ball. Scott Loeffler takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing the legendary Gus Malzahn. Under Loeffler, Auburn will move from a spread passing attack to a more traditional power run offense. He will do so on Saturday with a quarterback who will be making his first opening day start, as well as without his starting center Reese Dismukes who is out through suspension. While Clemson’s defense will be implementing a new defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Brent Venables, he can take solace in the fact that Auburn’s offense will be going through a major transition. New Auburn Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGoder has the challenge of putting his defense out on the field for the first time against one of the nation’s highest powered offenses. Clemson’s offensive experience and familiarity within their system has to give the Tigers a clear advantage going into Saturday.
On Saturday, Garrett will be rooting for the Tigers