The defending national champion Clemson Tigers will play host this Saturday to their fellow Tigers from Auburn. Death Valley in Clemson, South Carolina will be rocking for a 7:00 EST kickoff between the 3rd (Clemson) and 13th (Auburn) ranked teams in the country. The game will be televised on ESPN.
After a resounding win over Kent State to begin their season, Clemson will receive their first true test of the season Saturday. The boys from Jordan-Hare gave Clemson all they could handle last year, in what was eventually a 19-13 Clemson win.
Life without QB Deshaun Watson, defensive leader Ben Boulware, and their top skill players will be tough in the early weeks. But the best programs always reload, and there’s no doubt Clemson has enough talent still left at all those positions.
For Auburn, they’ll be getting their prized RB Kamryn Pettway back from suspension. But going into Clemson Memorial Stadium will be no easy task, and they’re rightfully placed as 5 ½-point underdogs.
It goes without saying that the biggest factor in this game is Kamryn Pettway, the power back, up against the incredible defensive line of Clemson. It’s often said that whoever controls the line controls the game, and that will be even more evident here.
Dexter Lawrence is likely the best DT in college football right now, and he’s only a sophomore. He’s joined on the front by Christian Wilkins, another huge disrupter in the run game for Clemson. This is a defense that was first in the ACC in scoring allowed last year. Though they lose their best LB in Boulware and top CB in Cordrea Tankersley, all three levels have All-ACC-caliber returners. MLB Kendall Joseph is another stud in the front seven who’ll factor into the run and pass game.
Auburn does possess an ability to pass the rock more efficiently down the field compared to last season. Jarrett Stidham is a clear upgrade from Sean White, but he’s yet to play a secondary anywhere near the caliber of Clemson’s. The status of change-of-pace back Kerryon Johnson is also unclear for Saturday, and he won’t be 100% even if he suits up with his leg injury.
So that means the load may fall square onto the big shoulders of Pettway. He has the best o-line in the SEC outside of the Crimson Tide’s, and Kam Martin might be able to provide quality carries to give him rest.
Clemson can match most of their skill players on that side of the ball though. If they have to commit a few extra bodies to stopping Pettway, they can do so knowing their DB’s are fine in man coverage. That may not be the case for their opponent’s secondary up against the likes of Deion Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Championship darling Hunter Renfrow.
And Kelly Bryant may not be DeShaun Watson yet, but he has much of the same skill set. He has so much talent across the offensive line, that he should feel comfortable with an Auburn d-line replacing some key players.
The road Tigers may be 10-4-1 ATS in their last 15 games and 5-2 ATS in the last 7 on the road, but Clemson can match with impressive numbers of their own. They’ve won 23 out of their last 25 at home, and covered 4 out of their last 5 in Memorial Stadium. They’re also 9-4 ATS over their last 13 non-conference games.
Pettway may very well bulldoze his way to 100 yards or more, but that won’t be nearly enough with how well-established Clemson is on both sides of the ball. They may take a step back from their title team last year, but they’re still a class above.