Familiar non-conference opponent Auburn offers unfamiliar look for Clemson in opener
CLEMSON — Auburn seems like it would be a familiar opponent for Clemson as the two programs prepare to meet at 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) in Atlanta.
After all, the teams play for a third straight season, meeting in a neutral site rubber match after each won on its home field in 2010 and 2011.
But the Auburn team Clemson meets in the Georgia Dome could hardly be more unfamiliar.
Gone is former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the man who brought the up-tempo, no-huddle spread to the Southeastern Conference, the man who schooled Clemson’s Chad Morris in the philosophy. Malzahn is now the head coach at Arkansas State, and in his place is Scott Loeffler, who was the offensive coordinator at Temple last year.
Gone is defensive coordinator Ted Roof. Entering is Brian VanGorder, who was the defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons for the previous four seasons and was last in the college game in 2006 as the Georgia Southern head coach. Run-first quarterback Kiehl Frazier will also be making his first start Saturday.
With so much change at Auburn, Clemson’s opening game as is much about gathering accurate intelligence as it is about preparing its own young team.
“I’ve looked at everything, talked to anybody that’s had any contact (with VanGorder’s defense),” Morris said. “We go as far back as we need to go back with film. It gets to the point where you’ve watched so much, you kind of get film-crazy over it.”
Morris said VanGorder likes to mix coverage and bring pressure through an array of blitzes. The complexity is expected from a coach with NFL experience, but Morris is unsure of how complex VanGorder will be in an opening game.
“It’s like us, you can get overcomplicated,” Morris said. “You can’t beat yourself. You better get good at something … That’s been our focus.”
The Auburn offense will be a more drastic departure from its previous form.
Gone is the up-tempo, no-huddle offense, and in its place is a pro-style scheme.
Clemson defensive back Xavier Brewer said the team has studied video of Loeffler’s Temple offense and of Auburn’s spring game. That is about all the video evidence that exists of Loeffler’s style as he was the Florida quarterbacks coach in 2009 and 2010.
Temple was seventh in the nation in rushing (256.4 yards per game, 5.2 yards per carry) last season and ran the ball three times for every one pass.
“They ran the ball well,” Brewer said “They imposed their will on a lot of teams.”
Auburn will be without starting center, Reese Dismukes, who has a one-game suspension to fulfill. But Auburn, with its athletic quarterback and an able running back in Onterio McCalebb, will still present a test for a Clemson defense that allowed 177 rushing yards per game last season.
“We are excited to show the world we are a different defense,” Clemson defensive tackle Josh Watson said.
And they’ll get their chance against a much different- looking Auburn team.