Hostile territory: Clemson to face largest crowd yet
CLEMSON -- Jordan-Hare Stadium is expected to be filled to capacity when Auburn hosts Clemson at 7 p.m. on Saturday. If 87,451 fans travel to Auburn as anticipated, it will be the largest crowd to watch a Clemson football game.
With both teams unbeaten for this SEC-ACC contest, with GameDay on the Auburn campus, and with ESPN televising the game in a primetime slot, the atmosphere is expected to be electric.
How will Clemson handle the environment? It is one of two super-sized questions to be answered by the Tigers. The other question: Can Clemson contain 6-6, 250-pound quarterback Cameron Newton?
Clemson has not played a power conference opponent since December when it met Kentucky at a neutral site at the Music City Bowl. Clemson has not played before a hostile road crowd since last season's loss at South Carolina.
Dabo Swinney compared the situation to Clemson's Week 2 trip to Georgia Tech last season.
"We didn't win the game, but we learned a lot about our team," Clemson's coach said.
Georgia Tech, aided by its raucous crowd of 52,029, jumped on Clemson last September, leading 21-0 after the first quarter.
There are expected to be 35,000 more fans harassing Clemson at Jordan-Hare than there were at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
While Swinney and Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker enter Auburn with more experience in their roles, the Tigers have graduated experienced leaders like C.J. Spiller, Thomas Austin and Michael Palmer -- players credited with keeping the team together in tough environments last season.
Where inexperience could most come under the spotlight is at placekicker.
If the game comes down to a field goal attempt, the Tigers will send out redshirt freshman Chandler Catanzaro, who made his first collegiate field goal attempt ( 47 yards) against Presbyterian in the Tigers' 58-21 victory Saturday.
To prepare Catanzaro and his teammates, Clemson has been creative, going beyond the usual piped-in rock music.
"In the game-winning situations coach Swinney puts us kickers in, everyone is standing around you and screaming," Catanzaro said of practice. "Usually some of the defensive linemen are stroking the long-snapper's leg while he's about to snap it, in some cases they've taken off his shoe. I think coach Swinney has yelled in my ear as I'm about to kick it, they've thrown stuff across before I kick the ball.
"It's the same kick whether it's on the practice field, in Death Valley or any other stadium. My only opponent is really myself. I feel if I go out there and trust my technique, my muscle memory will allow me to make the kick."
Clemson right tackle Landon Walker feels the team is equipped to handle tough road environments, citing last season's overtime road win at Miami as proof Clemson can succeed away from Memorial Stadium.
"It's not the same exact team (that won at Miami), but I think this team has a lot of composure and can stay poised on the road," Walker said. "I feel confident we can go into Auburn and the crowd noise and all the other factors will not bother us. Hopefully, I am right."
Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele played defensive end Andre Branch in spurts at linebacker against Presbyterian. Will we see more of the versatile 6-5, 265-pound Branch at linebacker against Auburn?
"You'd have to ask coach Steele," Branch said.
Carrying the flag
After the ACC's poor showing over the weekend, Clemson finds itself burdened with trying to salvage some of the league's reputation at Auburn.
Said Walker: "Hopefully, we'll show people the ACC isn't as bad as people think."