Auburn-Clemson Preview

Auburn coach Gene Chizik knows he has a resilient team with a

flair for the dramatic. He also understands it has a long way to go

to be considered great.

Coming off a second straight thrilling victory, Chizik’s

21st-ranked Tigers look to shore up some glaring defensive

shortcomings Saturday when they visit a Clemson team that is also

not fully satisfied with its first two wins.

It didn’t seem like Auburn (2-0) would be able to top a season

opener in which it scored two touchdowns in the final 2:07 to beat

Utah State 42-38, but last Saturday’s finish against then-No. 16

Mississippi State proved to be just as exciting.

Tigers backup safety Ryan Smith stopped Chris Relf at the goal

line on the game’s final play to preserve a 41-34 victory and

extend Auburn’s winning streak to 17, the longest in the FBS.

“I think these two certainly took it down to a place where we

know that they will fight,” Chizik said. “They are a young team.

They want to be good. Are we a great football team right now? No.

Not even close. But the identity of the team is starting to form

week by week because they will fight.

“We’d prefer to win football games a lot different than we are,

but there’s something to be said when you can fight down to the end

when it doesn’t look good and still win the game.”

Not having to wait until the waning seconds for the defense to

come up with a big stop would likely help.

The defending national champions, back in the Top 25 after

falling out of the rankings the first week, are allowing an average

of 489.5 yards, ninth-worst in the FBS. Stopping the run has been

the biggest problem, as only Middle Tennessee has allowed more than

Auburn’s total of 560 rushing yards.

The Tigers are now facing a Clemson team that has accumulated

412 on the ground in winning its first two games over inferior

opponents.

Clemson’s Andre Ellington ran for 165 yards on 22 attempts in

last Saturday’s 35-27 win over Wofford, and had 140 yards on the

same number of carries in last season’s 27-24 overtime loss at

then-No. 16 Auburn.

Auburn has won 14 straight over Clemson since a 34-0 loss in

1951, but the last two have each gone to overtime.

While Auburn’s run defense still looks vulnerable, its rushing

offense made major strides from the first game to second.

After running for 78 yards on 30 attempts against Utah State,

Chizik retooled the offensive line. The result – 231 rushing yards

on only six more carries. Mike Dyer led the way with 150 yards and

two touchdowns on 18 carries, and Onterio McCalebb added 68

yards.

“Definitely saw improvement, but not close to where we want to

be,” Chizik said.

The rejuvenated run game could make things difficult for a

Clemson team that allowed Wofford, an FCS school, to rush for 272

yards. Clemson defensive lineman Rennie Moore, however, doesn’t see

his team having another letdown against the run.

“Missed tackles. We know how to tackle. Missed assignments. We

know our assignments,” he said. “Once we take care of that, we’re

going to bring it like we’re supposed to against Auburn. That’s

where our focus is now.”

Clemson’s focus, however, wavered at times in its first two

games.

In its season opener against Troy, the Tigers went into halftime

down 16-13 before pulling away for a 43-19 victory. Against the

Terriers, they trailed 24-21 in the third quarter before rallying

to win.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

“We are a little bit of a work in progress, and that’s probably how

it’s going to be for a little bit. But we are very capable.”

Clemson, which hasn’t opened 3-0 since winning its first four

games in 2007, has looked strong at times behind Tajh Boyd, who has

thrown for three TD passes in each of the first two games.

“We got to get better,” Swinney said. “But we’re 2-0 and that’s

all that matters.”