The Auburn quarterback Wheel of Fortune has been solved, and the lucky winner is Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham. While he didn’t play in last year’s matchup, he will be ready to help Auburn avenge last year’s game that Clemson won 19 to 13.
Stidham was a good freshman quarterback in 2015 and he looked the part in last week’s 34-10 win over Georgia Southern, but he has not been tested yet in his career.
With the exception of a shootout versus Oklahoma, all of his 2015 FBS games were against defenses ranked 83rd or worse in the nation. While some of this is due to the Big XII’s style, this does indicate that he could struggle more than one would think.
Last year Auburn played three quarterbacks against Clemson, with none of them settling into a rhythm. They also rolled out some Wing-T material with Last Chance U star John Franklin (who transferred to FAU).
Kam Pettway led the SEC in average yards per game (122.4) and plays his first game this week because he was suspended for the opener. His backup and co-starter Kerryon Johnson has not practiced all week, so it is unclear if he will play.
On Clemson’s side, safety Van Smith is day to day and safety Denzel Johnson is probable. If Smith cannot play, sophomore K’Von Wallace will be the starter.
Auburn’s 41-7 win against Georgia Southern looked impressive, there are underlying causes for concern. Auburn’s rushed for 351 yards on 53 carries, but 194 yards came on 4 carries – meaning that it took 49 carries to get 157 yards (3.2 yards per carry) against a Georgia Southern team that struggled in the Sun Belt last year.
As Clemson found out last year, all it takes is one mistake for a struggling Auburn offense to move down the field off of play action or a great run.
Clemson has won 23 out of the last 25 at home (0.734 all time), and the crowd noise has caused numerous offenses to struggle. Lamar Jackson’s Louisville offense was penalized early and often due to the raucous crowd in Death Valley. If Clemson fans can bring the heat, it could give the defense momentum early in the game and help Clemson get off to a fast start.
While Auburn’s offensive performance against Clemson last year was atrocious (one rushing yard at halftime), their defense (and Clemson’s offensive mistakes) kept them in the game.
While Auburn lost talent on defense, their replacements are four and five star recruits – Auburn is reloading with talent like Clemson does.
They held Georgia Southern to 78 total yards and eight passing yards, while holding them to 0-15 on third down.
Both defenses lost talented players and both defenses are reloading. Both defenses are predicated on dominant defensive lines that make teams one dimensional, and former Clemson (now Auburn) defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is a great coach.
Neither team’s opponent last week seriously threatened the secondaries through the air, so the biggest defensive question marks how each secondary can hold up against the pass.
The one area Clemson has a distinct advantage is Auburn’s offensive line against Clemson’s defensive line. They allowed eight tackles for loss last week against a lesser opponent, and Clemson has arguably the best defensive line in the nation.
If Clemson can stop the run by dominating their offensive line, Malzahn’s offense stalls and Clemson wins the defensive side of the ball.
Auburn will try to take away Kelly Bryant’s first read and try to contain him in the pocket, because he has 4.4 to 4.5 speed that can be the spark Clemson needs to keep drives alive.
Barring any crazy special teams or turnover fiascos like FSU had against Alabama, whichever offensive line plays better should win the game for their team. Given Clemson’s improvement on the line in the past few years and Auburn’s struggles, Clemson is the favorite to win at home.
Prediction: 21 Clemson 17 Auburn