Averaging 34.2 points per game and 412.4 yards, Coach Rob Spence's offense has been a powerful machine in 2007. Seven times this season Clemson scored 30 or more points in a game, a figure Auburn reached against New Mexico State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee Tech only. Spence says for him the game begins and ends with how well his offensive line plays against a talented Auburn defensive front.
"I think the key to the match up is how the offensive and defensive lines compete against each other," Spence says. "Their strength is that front. They are very, very athletic at end. They are very strong at the inside tackle position. Their three-technique (Pat Sims) is just outstanding. (Quentin) Groves is a great outside rusher. To control the four down linemen and be able to also understand when they move from their different fronts how to both protect and run the ball against the different fronts is going to present a big challenge to us during the game. They are very, very, very athletic at every single position."
Clemson's running game led by James Davis and C.J. Spiller gets a lot of attention, but quarterback Cullen Harper has been the bright spot this season with 2,887 yards and 27 touchdowns with just six interceptions. Spence says that Auburn's secondary has also shown him some good things and can create some problems for an offense.
"When you start to study them I think they have a very well-coordinated defense," Spence says. "Their secondary plays a lot of variations of man defense as well as zone. They do an excellent job of coordinating those coverages with the front. The people on the back end of their defense always know where their help is on their man coverages and play excellent leverage. It's a defense that is well coordinated. You don't get to the position they are nationally if you're not well coordinated, well coached and good athletes."
Even with Auburn's pass defense ranked eighth in the country giving up just 179 yards per game, Spence says he sees some opportunities for his offense to get some big plays with receivers Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham down the field.
"They present that opportunity in some coverages," Spence says. "We'll have to take advantage of that when given the opportunity. People that have moved the ball on them have gotten some chunk plays and made big plays down the field on the perimeter, but they're pretty good at defensive back and especially the corner position. They're athletic and they do a nice job out there. That's a place that you hope to get some chances during the game."
With 1,045 yards and 11 touchdowns with 15 plays of 20 yards or more, Kelly is the definition of a big-play threat, one of several for Clemson's offense. On the ground Davis and Spiller have combined for 1,600+ yards and 11 touchdowns with 52 runs of over 10 yards. Spence says the challenge for their offense is to keep guys happy and distribute the ball between several players.
"You always want players that can make big plays and athletes and perimeter players that can make plays in space," Spence says. "We've had that this year. We've had the opportunity to utilize all these different players in different ways. Certainly the challenge is to try to come up with unique ways week in and week out to use a C.J. Spiller and when Jacoby (Jacoby Ford) was healthy to use Jacoby. Rendrick Taylor gives you another dimension when he's healthy.
"James Davis needs to touch the ball a certain number of times to get in a rhythm. Obviously our tight ends have improved and we have a fine quarterback that has thrown the ball accurately against good opponents. It does present a big challenge."
In the end this game may simply come down to Clemson's ability to run the football. Averaging 158.8 yards per game on the ground, Clemson was held to a total of just 89 yards in their three losses this season. Facing an Auburn defense that held Arkansas' duo of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones to just 85 total yards, Spence says it could give him some worry, but he has faith that his guys are going to get it done.
"I think it's a growth process on offense," Spence says. "I think as our players have gone through the season they have matured up front. As you know and know me, I believe and they believe."