(Sports Network) An intriguing non-conference matchup is on the docket this weekend in Auburn, as the 16th-ranked Tigers play host to ACC foe Clemson at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Gene Chizik is in his second season at the helm at Auburn and already has the Tigers poised for a run at the SEC West title. The Tigers began the season with a great deal of optimism and have done little to change that with a pair of wins, including opening SEC play last week with a hard-fought 17-14 victory over a good Mississippi State program.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers are also off to a fast 2-0 start thanks to easy wins over North Texas (35-10) and Presbyterian (58-21). This is Clemson's first road test of the season and will be followed by a bye before kicking off ACC play on October 2nd against Miami-Florida.
Auburn holds a 33-11-2 advantage in the all-time series, thanks to wins in each of the last 13 meetings with Clemson. The ACC's Tigers haven't posted a win in this series since 1951. The last meeting took place in the 2007 Chick- fil-A Bowl, a memorable 23-20 overtime win for Auburn.
Clemson needed to find an adequate replacement for All-American C.J. Spiller and while the team lacks the kind of production that Spiller brought by himself, the ground game is still thriving, averaging 229.0 yards per game thus far. It has been a group effort, spearheaded by tailbacks Andre Ellington (8.9 ypc, three TDs) and Jamie Harper (6.0 ypc, one TD).
The success on the ground has allowed QB Kyle Parker to complete just over 57 percent of his passes, for 283 yards and four TDs. There really isn't a go-to- guy in the passing game yet, although tight end Dwayne Allen (three catches, 90 yards, one TD) is a solid relief valve.
The Tigers have made light work of the opposition thus far on the scoreboard, but the team has struggled at times in yielding 370.5 yards per game to suspect competition. The team has been susceptible to the run, giving up 166.5 yards per game on nearly four yards per carry. Still, the hope is that standout downlinemen like Da'Quan Bowers (eight tackles, two TFLs, two sacks), Jarvis Jenkins (nine tackles, three TFLs, one sack) and Andre Branch (seven tackles, four TFLs, three sacks) will help improve those numbers on a weekly basis, although Jenkins is questionable this week with a knee injury. While the guys up front give Clemson one of the better lines in the ACC, the star of this unit is safety DeAndre McDaniel. One of the top safeties in the college ranks, McDaniel leads Clemson with 15 tackles through the first two games.
Clemson better shore up its run defense, because Auburn possesses one of the nation's top duel threats in junior QB Cameron Newton. The 6-6, 250-pounder leads an offense averaging 478.0 yards per game, with a great ground attack (278.5 ypg) and improving vertical game (199.5 ypg). Newton is the key and has been unstoppable thus far, pacing the team in rushing with 120.5 yards per game and two scores, while completing 60.6 percent of his passes, for 322 yards and five TDs. Darvin Adams and Mario Fannin are both averaging over 15 yards per reception and have combined for 175 yards and three TDs, although Fannin is questionable this week (shoulder). Newton gets help on the ground from both Onterio McCalebb (6.9 ypc) and Michael Dyer (6.2 ypc).
Auburn's toughness on the defensive side of the football has been apparent in the first two games, especially against the run. The Tigers are allowing a meager 80.0 yards per game rushing, on 2.4 yards per carry. The play up front is a strength of this unit, led by senior rush end Antoine Carter (nine tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) and junior tackle Nick Fairley (nine tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks, one INT and one fumble recovery). The 6-5, 300-pound Fairley was recently named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort against Mississippi State, as he finished the game with five tackles, 1.5 sacks, an interception and fumble recovery.
Following the game, Chizik had this to say about his star defensive tackle.
"That young man played so hard tonight, in my opinion. I have to give him a lot of credit. Every time you saw him he was in the back field and he was doing things. Obviously he picked the one ball and I was just very proud of him tonight."
Auburn has the x-factor in Newton and that coupled with a favorable home crowd, tips the scales in the War Eagles' favor.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Auburn 23, Auburn 17