Bringing in an explosive offense and a defense capable of making big plays, Clemson will be a tough challenge for an Auburn team hoping to continue its rise up the national rankings.
Averaging 46.5 points per game this season and 418 yards of total offense per game, Clemson's strength is on offense despite losing two of the top playmakers in the country off the 2009 team. The Tigers are led by athletic sophomore quarterback Kyle Parker. A first round selection in the Major League Baseball Draft last summer, Parker chose to come back and play his second season of football for Clemson.
After a huge freshman year Parker has continued his solid play this year as he has completed 15-26 passes for 283 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception. At 6-1, 200, Parker is a physical player who has a strong arm. Not tested after easy victories over North Texas and Presbyterian, Parker will likely have a much bigger role in the passing game Saturday night.
If he does he'll have a wide variety of targets to throw the ball to as six different receivers have caught passes for Clemson this season. Perhaps the top receiver is Xavier Dye. The 6-5 senior has yet to catch a pass this season but has the physical skills to create a mismatch for the Tigers. Tight end Dwayne Allen (6-4, 255, So.) leads Clemson with three catches for 90 yards in the first two games.
Trying to make up for the gaping hole left by speedster C.J. Spiller at tailback, Clemson has a three-headed monster that has been strong so far this year. Junior Jamie Harper (6-0, 235) is the power back while sophomore Andre Ellington (5-10, 190) and freshman Roderick McDowell (5-9, 185) provide the big play threats on the ground. The trio has combined for 335 yards and five touchdowns on just 38 carries this season.
Up front Auburn will have to deal with one of the biggest offensive lines they will see all season with only one player under 300 pounds in center Dalton Freeman (6-5, 285, So.). On the left side Chris Hairston (6-7, 325, Sr.) at tackle and guard David Smith (6-5, 315, Jr.) are a formidable tandem. Clemson is just as strong on the right side with Anniston native Antoine McClain (6-5, 330) at guard and fellow junior Landon Walker (6-6, 310) at tackle.
Defensively, Clemson has struggled at times this season to get off the field. That was particularly apparent in week one as North Texas had 462 yards and 25 first downs in a loss. For the year the Tigers are allowing 15.5 points per game this year and 370.5 yards of total offense. The offensive line isn't the only place where Clemson has size as the defensive line is massive led by junior Da'Quan Bowers.
One of the top defensive linemen in the nation, the 6-4, 275 junior has eight tackles and two sacks this season. He is joined by huge tackles Brandon Thompson (6-2, 310, Jr.) and Jarvin Jenkins (6-4, 315, Sr.) in the middle and 6-5, 260 junior Andre Branch on the other side. Branch has been the most productive of the linemen through two games with three sacks and four tackles for a loss in 2010.
The return of veteran linebacker Brandon Maye (6-2, 235, Jr.) should help shore up some of the problems on the defense. The Mobile native is a physical presence on the weak side and teams with speedy Corico Hawkins (5-11, 230, So.) in the middle and Quandon Christian (6-3, 215, Fr.) to give the Tigers a strong group.
If there is a star on Clemson's defense then it would be safety DeAndre McDaniel. A former linebacker that made the move backwards into the secondary, the 6-1, 215 senior leads the team with 15 tackles this season and is a strong candidate for All-American honors. Fellow safety Rashard Hall (6-2, 200, So.) is second with 13 tackles, making for a very busy secondary for the Tigers. At the corners veterans Marcus Gilchrist (5-11, 190, Sr.) and Byron Maxwell (6-1, 205, Sr.) make for a tough challenge for opposing wide receivers.
In addition to his duties in the secondary Gilchrist is also one of the most dangerous return men in the country. Averaging 23.8 yards on four punt returns and 29 yards on a pair of kickoff returns, he can flip the field position in a hurry if given the opportunity. One of the biggest weapons for Clemson is punter Dawson Zimmerman. Averaging 49.8 yards on nine punts, Zimmerman has an almost unheard of 46.1 yard net punting average.
This game should come down to several old simple football rules--run, stop the run and win the turnover battle. Auburn needs to continue to be effective running the football in order to open up the passing game of quarterback Cameron Newton while slowing the Clemson attack. Forcing Parker to be one-dimensional would allow Auburn's pass rushers to pin their ears back and go after the quarterback. Forcing just a pair of turnovers this season, Auburn's defense must be more opportunistic beginning this Saturday night. If that's the case the chances that Toomer's Corner is rolled late Saturday night become even greater.