Atlanta, Ga.--Any time a team tries to prepare for a bowl game there is always a bit of uncertainty because of the time off between the last game of the season and the next game. That is the least of the worries for Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning though as he's got a lot more to worry about than just that.
He enters Monday night's game trying to figure out not only what new wrinkles Auburn's offense will show, but is forced to learn two complete offensive systems because of Auburn's new offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin. Koenning says because of that the preparation for the Chick-fil-A Bowl has been never ending.
"We're continuing to try to hit on all the...I want to say specifics because you want to be detail oriented, but we really don't know what we're going to get," Koenning says. "We're continuing to try to be broad and speculate and try to have our guys prepared for almost anything. We've still got a little bit of work to do from a mental standpoint of making sure we've dotted I's and crossed T's with any possible formations and plays.
"We've been forced to prepare for really more than two offenses because you've got what Auburn had done all year. Then you've got Tony Franklin's stuff. Then you've got combinations of both. You don't know if it's going to be one or the other or a combination or some new stuff they came up with during bowl practice. I won't say it's frustrating, but it's something you've really got the work the players and coaches really hard to try to prepare for."
The biggest question mark isn't what Koenning will see, but how it's done. He says he knows he'll see variations of the spread offense and no-huddle, but how it will be run remains the mystery and a key to what he tries to do on defense.
"There are variations of it," Koenning says. "There are zone-read packages which they employed some at Troy with the quarterback run game. That is tough to defend. Anytime a quarterback becomes a ball carrier they are playing with 11, which is what option football basically is. It's tough to play a two-deep scheme in that scenario because you're just not sound. Somebody has got to whip two to have a numbers match up.
"You've got teams that spread and throw it first," he adds. "They tend to play with empty formations and stuff. You can try to match up and play a two-deep coverage where you can protect some guys a little bit. My experiences are we play it and have played it. It just depends on what variations they use and we'll try to adjust to what we see."
There is no doubt that if Auburn spreads the field to throw the ball that Brandon Cox will get a majority of the snaps because he is the best passer for the Tigers. If the running game is employed that's when things change. Koenning says because of that they are prepared to see Auburn true freshman Kodi Burns in at some point to make it tough on the defense because of his running ability.
No matter who is at quarterback one thing Koenning definitely expects to see is a fast-paced offense that will challenge his defense from start to finish. This season Troy led the nation in offensive plays per game at over 80, something Koenning says he has tried to get across to his team to get their tempo up as much as possible.
"The thing we've tried to express to our guys is that when the play goes outside the numbers they are going to set the ball and they're going to be standing over the ball again," Koenning says. "We've had some experience with teams trying to do that and our offense has a package where they do that to us and they've had good success at practice when they do.
"We've got to understand that. We've tried to up tempo our guys and express to them that they're not going to have an opportunity to walk at any point in time and it's going to be hard to substitute. We have worked extremely hard on the intensity and speed of the game. You're not going to be allowed to walk back to the ball."
In the end this game could come down to a chess match between coordinators, just like most games between two teams of comparable talent. Because of that there is more unknown than normal because of Auburn's questions on offense, but Koenning says he hopes to give Auburn some questions as well to give his defense a leg up come Monday night. His one concern is something that isn't a main staple of the spread, but something both Franklin and Tommy Tuberville say they plan to keep a part of the Auburn offense.
"Usually every week there is something we try to throw out to create some guessing for the offense, a new wrinkle or new ways to do things," Koenning says. "We are very prideful of where we're at statistically and what we've been able to accomplish.
"There's not a lack of effort or running to the ball that we allow our guys to do," he adds. "That would be the first and foremost thing. I am a little bit concerned about their ability to run right at us and the strength of their running backs and a little bit of the power football game they had shown during the season. That was kind of a concern, but we've played teams that did that this season also."