The Match Up of the Week is back and while Alabama-Michigan is the big game Saturday night, the most intriguing match up, for me, is the Chick-fil-A Kickoff between Clemson and Auburn. So much transition, so many questions and both teams need a win to have the 2012 season they want.
For Clemson, they’re playing without Sammy Watkins, trying to fill massive holes along the defensive line; all while transitioning into Brent Venables’ new system. On the Auburn side, Kiehl Frazier gets to show what he can do at the quarterback spot as both sides of the ball suit up for new coordinators looking to change the systems.
Clemson’s offense is going to hum. They’re playing against a defense that still is not fully installed, with deficiencies at the second level. The issues from a season ago; poor tackling, not getting off blocks and inability to get off the field, will not be cured by a spring and fall camp with Brian VanGorder. He’s got a lot on his plate and we’ll find out what he thinks of his of team when we watch the defense play.
Look for how much they put on the defense’s plate. Alignment issues will be the first key to figuring out how comfortable the players are with this system. If Auburn can get lined up right, against Clemson’s shifting sets and motions, that will be a huge step. Expect some errors out of Auburn, that’s what happens when a team has a significant advantage in being comfortable with a scheme and being able to spring new looks for the first game.
Clemson, even without Watkins, has an edge in what they can show Auburn’s defense. Look for Chad Morris to throw the kitchen sink at this young defense. Really test their ability to shift, get lined up, play coverages and stay on the same page, on a big stage in Atlanta. Mental errors, both before and after the snap, will result in Nuke Hopkins streaking for a touchdown or Andre Ellington getting some big gains.
On the flip side, when Auburn has the ball expect confusion all over the place. The Tigers will be stretching their legs in Scot Loefler’s new system, against a Clemson team that is still trying to learn Brent Venables largely zone based scheme. Most interesting point of note here is how Clemson preps. Loefler’s got stops at Temple, Florida and of course Michigan and each system was quite different from a scheme and personnel standpoint.
Michigan clearly was rooted in the pro set, Florida was a spread that was slowly trying to improve the passing skills of Tim Tebow and at Temple, running the show, Loefler used some dual threat quarterbacks who also worked from the pro set. With a kid like Kiehl Frazier at the helm, look for Loefler to move some of his temple philosophy into Auburn’s strategy as they make use of the sophomore’s arm and legs.
The Clemson Tigers will be coming in a bit less primed for what Auburn does; that’s a plus for a young Auburn offense. If Loefler can put this Clemson team into some tough spots through alignment, shifts or play calls; there can be some opportunity.
However, Brent Venables, if his team can grasp the concepts, might be able to pressure Auburn based upon that same gap in preparation. Venables does like to blitz, he’ll bring pressure from depth, he runs zone dogs and really has made a career out of confusing offensive lines, offensive coordinators and quarterbacks. It’s up to his team to grasp some of the simple concepts before he can use the exotic blitz packages that he has in his playbook.
This is truly a game that is going to expose who did more in the meeting rooms. Clemson comes in with an edge on offense against the Auburn defense. When Auburn has the ball, both teams will be looking for opportunity. We’ll find out who learned more this offseason; a cut playbook is a killer in a contest where you need to get the football to your weapons to succeed.
Follow Michael Felder on Twitter.