StatTiger: Analyzing Auburn vs. Clemson

Columnist Stuart Carter looks at the matchups and predictes a winner for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Clemson (9-3)

Offensive Numbers: 412 yards per game (159 rushing, 253 passing), 34 points per game
Defensive Numbers: 297 yards per game (112 rushing, 185 passing), 18 points per game

Record Against Auburn: 11-32-2 Last Meeting: 1997-98 (Peach Bowl) Auburn 21 Clemson 17


Clemson finished the regular season with a 9-3 overall record, 5-3 in conference play. It marks the first time since 2000 that Clemson won at least nine regular season games and an opportunity to win 10 games since 1990.

During the regular season, Clemson averaged 412 yards per game while allowing only 297 yards. Coach Tommy Bowden has been successful at Clemson, but not as successful as the fan base would like. He has won his share of the Bowden Bowls, but has no conference titles. Beating Auburn and finishing 10-3 could help take some of the recent heat off of Bowden.

Last time out...

Clemson finished the season with a 23-21 victory over bitter rival, South Carolina. It was Clemson's best offensive game against a quality opponent, totaling 443 yards in total offense against the Gamecocks. It was a balanced attack with 214 yards coming on the ground and 229 through the air.

Auburn closed out its season with a 17-10 victory over its biggest rival, Alabama. The Auburn defense held the Crimson Tide to just 225 yards, making Alabama the fifth opponent the Tiger defense held to under 300 yards in total offense. Once again, the Auburn offense continued to struggle, but generated enough offense to secure their eighth victory of the season.

About Clemson...

For the last two seasons, the focal point of Clemson's offense has been its combination of running backs, James Davis and C.J. Spillers. The Clemson ground game struggled this season compared to 2006, but still managed a respectable 159 yards per game.

James Davis, who is nicknamed "Thunder," is a key player for Clemson.

Davis leads the team with 992 yards and nine touchdowns and Spillers is second on the team with 656 yards rushing.

Junior quarterback Cullen Harper is currently the 17th best quarterback in the nation with 27 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. Harper passed for at least two touchdowns in nine of 12 starts.

Wide-receiver Aaron Kelly led the ACC in receptions with 84 catches for 1,045 yards, hauling in 11 touchdown passes. Tyler Grisham is Clemson's top possession receiver with 65 receptions on the season.

Cullen Harper's passing has been a key component of Clemson's success.

Spillers is not only a threat at running back, but was third on the team with 32 receptions for an additional 276 yards. The Clemson Tigers were 47th nationally in total offense, averaging over 412 yards per game. They were 51st in the nation with 5.56 yards per play and 35th in the country, scoring a touchdown every 18.2 plays.

Two of Clemson's four leading tacklers will miss the game due to being declared academically ineligible. Linebackers Nick Watkins (100 tackles) and Tramaine Billie (69 tackles) will certainly be missed on a Clemson team that was No. 6 in the country in total defense.

Defensive linemen, Phillip Merling (15.0) and Ricky Sapp (9.5), lead Clemson with tackles behind the line of scrimmage. As a team, Clemson is 53rd in the nation with 77 tackles behind the line, ninth best in the ACC.

Defensive backs, Michael Hamlin and Chris Chancellor lead Clemson with four interceptions each.

Punter Jimmy Maners is ranked 22nd in the nation with 42.7 yards per punt and kicker Mark Buchholz connected on only 20 of 32 field goal attempts.

Clemson averaged 9.4 yards per punt return and 23.7 yards per kick return (17th nationally). Clemson has had one punt return for a touchdown and two on kick returns. Clemson is 115th in the nation on punt-return defense, allowing over 15 yards per return. As much as Auburn struggled on kick-return defense, Clemson was actually worse, allowing 22.4 yards per return, 82nd nationally.

About Auburn...

There was no question the defense carried the Auburn offense the majority of the last two seasons, which led to the departure of offensive coordinator, Al Borges. Coach Tony Franklin becomes Auburn's fifth offensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville, but how much of an influence he will have against Clemson remains to be seen.

Auburn comes into the Chick-fil-A Bowl with four backs over 400 yards rushing. Ben Tate is the leading rusher with 856 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Brad Lester has 473 yards and three touchdowns in six games.

Junior tailback Brad Lester is a key player for the Auburn ofense.

Senior quarterback Brandon Cox will make his 44th appearance as an Auburn Tiger, but his senior year has not played out the way most thought it would. After passing for 2,324 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2005, Cox passed for only 1869 yards and nine touchdowns in 2007. Cox is expected to start against Clemson and should take the majority of snaps.

Rod Smith (48) and Montez Billings (27) lead Auburn in receptions, but a change in offensive coordinator could change how Auburn attacks the Clemson secondary.

Six Auburn Tigers have recorded more than 50 tackles on the season with Chris Evans leading the team with 63 stops. Defensive end Antonio Coleman is 17th in the nation with 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, also leading Auburn with seven quarterback sacks.

Jerruad Powers and Patrick Lee lead both had four interceptions on the year. Punter Ryan Shoemaker finished the regular season as the 16th best punter in the nation and Wes Byrum connected on 16 of 21 field goal attempts.

Final Thoughts...

Based on the scoring margins and average scoring by both teams, Clemson should be favored by two points. With the losses of several key starters on the Clemson defense and the arrival of Coach Tony Franklin, it could be enough to swing the odds back in favor of the Auburn Tigers.

Though his time has been limited to install his offense, Franklin has had plenty of time to add a few new twists to the Auburn offense. One constant factor will be the performance of the Auburn defense.

As well as the Auburn defense has been this season, it struggled against the two most balanced offenses it faced this season. LSU totaled 488 yards and Georgia gained 417 yards against Auburn. Clemson will clearly have the ability to attack the Auburn defense with both its running game and passing game.

Limiting Clemson's big play ability will be a key for the Auburn defense. For the season, Clemson has 20 offensive plays of 30-yards or more (7 run/13 pass) while Auburn has allowed 11 on defense (1 run/10 pass). In the four games, Clemson was held without a big play on offense, it averaged 18 points per game.

Tony Franklin (right) will be coaching his first game with the Tigers.

The big question coming into the game will be how Auburn attacks the Clemson defense. From the reports coming out of AU practices, the Auburn faithful will see some of Coach Franklin's "spread" offense. With Cox expected to take the majority of snaps, the main influence by Coach Franklin will come in the passing game. During the past season, Troy's passing game was a high percentage and short passing game, which could play into Auburn's current strength in personnel. I would not be surprised to see Cox passing out of the shotgun more than he has in any other game this season.

During some of his recent interviews as Auburn's offensive coordinator, Franklin has commented on adjusting his schemes based on the strength of his personnel. With this in mind, the running backs and tight ends could see a higher number of passes thrown their way against Clemson. Add to this the fact that Clemson will be without the services of at least two starting linebackers, this makes this scenario more likely. Don't forget that Cox ran a spread offense in high school and is probably far more efficient passing out of a shotgun formation.

Speaking of the Auburn passing game, after throwing for 394 yards and thee touchdowns against Michigan during the 2001 Citrus Bowl, Auburn has averaged only 136 yards passing per game in its last six bowl games. This also includes a total of four touchdown passes in Auburn's last six bowl appearances. The Auburn offense gained 486 yards against the Michigan Wolverines, but has managed an average of 253.5 yards per bowl game since. Tuberville hired Franklin to make Auburn a better offensive team in 2008. Auburn is hopeful his short stint on the job will have an immediate impact against Clemson.

Auburn 24, Clemson 20


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