CLEMSON -- In a week where focus has centered on Cam Newton and the Auburn offense, there is also a SEC defense to consider.
The question is which Auburn defense is for real?
Will Auburn's defense perform Saturday like it did last season, or like it has through two games this year?
Last year, Auburn allowed 27.5 points per game, the most points the program has given up the last seven years. Auburn allowed a staggering 621 yards and 35 points to the last non-SEC, power conference team it faced: Northwestern in the Outback Bowl.
In its two victories this season, Auburn is 10th nationally in sacks, allowing 74 fewer yards per game than last season.
The consensus from the West Zone offices is Clemson will meet an improved Auburn defense at 7 p.m. Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney declared Auburn to have no weaknesses and noted eight starters return on defense. Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier said Auburn is benefiting from a second year under head coach Gene Chizik and defensive coordinator Ted Roof.
"They're benefiting from that just like we are," Napier told reporters Tuesday. "I think that's evident just watching the first two games. They're more comfortable with who they are and what they're doing defensively."
Napier and other staff members noted the talents of defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who lived in the Mississippi State backfield last Thursday in Auburn's 17-14 win. Auburn's second-leading tackler from last season, Craig Stevens, who has been suspended the first two weeks, might also return.
"Their front guys are long, tall players who play well and use their length to their advantage," Napier said. "They're very experienced at linebacker."
Napier said he'll try to slow the tempo of the game Saturday.
"Not only is their offense not on the field, but our defense is not on the field and their defense is," Napier said. "That's a factor in each game you play, but in particular with this group, given the volume of plays they may have to play."
Not only does Swinney return to his home state Saturday, albeit the site of his boyhood and college rival Auburn, but Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and Chizik also have also ties to the opposing sideline in Saturday's matchup.
Steele's daughter, Caroline, is a senior at Auburn, while Steele's younger brother, Jeff, is an associate athletic director at Auburn.
Chizik was a graduate assistant at Clemson during the 1988 and 1989 seasons before moving on to Middle Tennessee State.
"It was just one of those unique times in your life where you got an opportunity," Chizik told the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser. "It was just the right place and right time. It was a great time in my life. It just got me propelled into the college football scene, which was big for me at that time."
Freshman offensive lineman Kalon Davis (back) has been ruled out for the year with a disc issue. Clemson linebacker Tig Willard (elbow) and running back Roderick McDowell (ankle) were both injured during Wednesday's practice. Willard is questionable and McDowell is probable for Auburn ... Auburn left tackle Lee Ziemba will play against Clemson.
Clemson's 6-4, 225-pound freshman tight end Victor Beasley has worked some as the scout team quarterback this week to simulate Newton. Swinney said defensive end Da'Quan Bowers might be the only player who could replicate Newton's blend of size and quickness ... In Swinney's career as a player and coach, he's gone 7-4 against Auburn. Clemson has lost 13 straight games to Auburn, including a 23-20 loss in their last meeting at the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl.