Clemson coach Dabo Swinney may not ever live down his frenetic,
shouts of celebration caught on national TV moments after defeating
Auburn last season.
He just hopes he gets to embarrass himself again this week.
Clemson and Auburn will open the season Saturday night at the
Georgia Dome. It’s the third straight season the teams have played
– and likely to be the third consecutive time the winner can count
on even bigger things down the road.
Clemson led Auburn 17-0 in 2010 until the home team rallied
behind Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton for a 27-24 overtime win as
part of its national title run.
Clemson came from 21-7 down last fall to stun the defending
champions 38-24 and kickstart its 8-0 start on the way to an
Atlantic Coast Conference title.
”It’s always been special to play Auburn,” said Swinney, an
Alabama graduate who played on Gene Stallings’ 1992 national
champions. ”Every game is huge.”
Swinney showed how much it means during last season’s postgame
celebration – the video’s had more than 53,000 viewings on
YouTube.com – when he shouted there was no better place to end
Auburn’s winning streak than ”Death Valley, South Carolina,
A year later, Swinney grins at the memory.
”I’m never going to apologize for celebrating winning,” the
coach said Tuesday. Still, Swinney said when he watched it again
later that day, he thought, ”Oh, geez, I was pretty pumped
The victory proved a springboard for the young Tigers who
followed up with wins over Florida State and Virginia Tech the next
two weeks. Despite a late-season swoon, Clemson reached the ACC
title game and defeated the Hokies for a second time to win its
first league crown in 20 years.
Beating Auburn ”was big for our confidence to take the next
step,” Swinney said.
Auburn certainly understands the magnitude of the game.
The Tigers were a work in progress when Clemson came to town in
2010. For a while, it looked like Clemson would end the
championship season before it truly got going as it moved in front
17-0 and led by two touchdowns at the half.
In what became a season-long theme, though, Newton rallied
Auburn. Newton’s 78-yard TD pass in the third quarter put Auburn
ahead for the first time at 24-17 and Auburn finally prevailed when
Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a 32-yard field goal in
”That was an eye-opening game for us because we were able to
win it but I felt like we got physically beat on the line of
scrimmage,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. ”That kind of
catapulted us into understanding what it was really going to take
for us to win this league that year.”
Expect this latest contest to again set the tone for a season in
which both sets of Tigers have questions to answer.
Auburn, without Newton, dropped from 14-0 to 8-5 last fall and
brought plenty of offseason changes. Offensive coordinator Gus
Malzahn left to become Arkansas State’s head coach and Chizik
brought in Steve Loeffler to take over. National championship
defensive coordinator Ted Roof moved to Central Florida and
eventually Penn State in the same position and Auburn hired Brian
VanGorder of the Atlanta Falcons.
Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier will make his first start
Saturday night and the backfield won’t include its top rusher the
past two years in Michael Dyer, who left after he was suspended
indefinitely by Chizik for violating team rules.
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford said the rivalry with Clemson has
deepened the past two years, making it more critical than ever to
succeed on Saturday. ”We consider this an away game that we have
to win,” he said. ”We have a lot to prove.”
So does Clemson.
The Tigers have a new man in charge of defense, too, hiring
Brent Venables from Oklahoma soon after the Tigers’ record-setting
Orange Bowl debacle in which they lost 70-33 to West Virginia.
Venables is antsy to finally see what his players have picked up
through spring and summer workouts, yet is wary of facing Auburn’s
firepower in week one.
”You wish you had a I-AA to start off with,” Venables
Clemson’s record-breaking offense from a year ago – the Tigers
posted the most yards and points in its long history – will be
minus All-American receiver Sammy Watkins, serving the first of a
two-game suspension for an offseason drug arrest.
Clemson center Dalton Freeman knows facing Auburn early is a
perfect opportunity to build on last year’s championship season. If
they can pull it off again, Freeman’s prepared for another Swinney
”When you win, you need to celebrate, you need to have a good
time,” Freeman said. ”A lot of coaches don’t wear their emotions
on their sleeve, but that’s what it’s all about.”
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Auburn, Ala., contributed to this