The Final Breakdown

The center of the college football universe will be in Auburn Saturday for the matchup of Tigers as Clemson plays No. 15 Auburn.

WHAT: Clemson at No. 15 Auburn
WHERE: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) - Auburn, Ala.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 18 (7 p.m. EST)
SPREAD: Auburn by 7.5

Auburn leads the all-time series 33-11-2 between these two schools, as Clemson has lost the last 13 matchups. The last win versus Auburn came in 1951, a 34-0 victory for the ACC Tigers.

The two teams last met in the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, Ga. when Auburn won 23-20, in overtime.

Through two games this season both teams are 2-0. Auburn opened the season with a 52-26 win over Arkansas State before dropping Mississippi State 17-14 last Thursday night in Starkville.

Clemson beat North Texas 35-10 in its season opener and won beat Presbyterian 58-21 a week later.

Gene Chizik is 10-5 during his two years at Auburn and owns a 15-24 record during his four years as a head coach. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has a 15-8 record during his two seasons at Clemson. Both teams return every full-time coach from last season's staff.

Keeping in mind since 2000, Auburn is 20-4 when kicking off at 6 p.m. or later in Jordan-Hare Stadium, here's a look at what to expect Saturday night:

The Auburn rushing attack starts with quarterback Cameron Newton and boy, is he dangerous.

Mario Fannin is questionable after suffering a shoulder injury against Mississippi State but should see the field. (AP)
At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, his size presents a rather large challenge. Couple that with his ability to run and cut on a dime and he's serious trouble for opposing defenses. Newton's greatest threat is his ability to improvise once the play breaks down. But there's no doubt that he can make things happen on designed runs and option plays. Newton, the team's leading rusher, has averaged 120.5 rushing yards a game, which is 16th best in the nation.

Running backs Onterrio McCalebb and Michael Dyer have each rushed for over 140 yards. Starter Mario Fannin is questionable after suffering a shoulder injury against Mississippi State but should see the field.

Clemson recruiting followers might remember McCalebb, a former four-star from the class of 2008 who took an official visit to Clemson the week before his trip to Auburn. Dyer was the No. 2 ranked running back in the class of 2010.

Clemson's struggles against running quarterbacks have been well-documented over the past year and the Tigers will be put to the test against the Tigers and Newton.

Though it's usually reserved for coach speak, we're of the belief that it will all start up front Saturday.

Auburn has four offensive linemen that have combined for 117 career starts, led by left tackle Lee Ziemba, who has started 40 games since his freshman season. Although suffered a knee injury in last week's game versus Mississippi State, he'll play Saturday.

The Clemson front is back to full-strength after Jarvis Jenkins missed last week's game versus Presbyterian. Clemson's two-deep rotation on the line is an experienced unit, too. They'll have to do a good job keeping the linebackers free to find ball carriers.

Brandon Maye is expected to make his season debut after having his knee scoped days before the start of the season. Corico Hawkins is in line for his biggest challenge during his Clemson career after starting the last three games against Kentucky, North Texas and Presbyterian. Plus, he'll be making checks and calls against the NASCAR-pace speed that Gus Malzahn likes to rev his offense up to.

Until Clemson proves otherwise, CUTigers has a tough time believing Newton won't be a big factor running the ball on Saturday. After Lance Dunbar's performance in the season opener, Dyer and McCalebb could be feeling pretty good their chances.

If Texas Christian quarterback Andy Dalton can run like he did a year ago in Death Valley, there's no reason to believe Newton can't be better at Jordan-Hare. If he can break containment, watch out.

Not a good feeling for Clemson on this one.


Auburn has performed very well against the run over the past two seasons. Last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, was limited to just 30 yards and no touchdowns on 16 carries. The Tigers held three of its last four opponents to less than 100 yards rushing last season.

Andre Ellington (pictured above) and Jamie Harper's abillity to get positive yardage on first down will be critical Saturday evening. (Getty Images)
The group has been just as stingy this season. Through two games the Tigers have allowed just 80 yards per game rushing (2.4 yards per carry). The line is led by senior end Antoine Carter and junior tackle Nick Fairley, who was recently named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his five tackles, 1.5 sacks, interception and fumble recovery against Mississippi State.

But Auburn's front hasn't really been tested yet this season. Arkansas State is, well, Arkansas State. And Mississippi State lost All-SEC running back Anthony Dixon to the San Francisco 49ers.

Then again, Clemson hasn't been tested in its two-game run against North Texas and Presbyterian. Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper—The New Storm—will be tested on Saturday.

Both backs have eclipsed the 100-yard mark this season and have needed 15 or fewer carries to do so.

Auburn held Mississippi State on its last five drives, including three-straight three and outs. The Tigers held the Bulldogs on the final seven third-down attempts. That was without outside linebacker Craig Stevens, who was suspended for the first two games. He's expected to make his 2010 debut against Clemson.

Three of the four defensive linemen are backed by freshmen and so are two of the three linebackers. Clemson's offensive line returns plenty of experience and will use as many as eight players throughout the night.

On a neutral site, it's a push. The home field advantage gives Auburn an edge, but those Tigers have shown they're susceptible to runs up the middle.


Remember last season when Swinney explained why Kyle Parker was named starting quarterback: the talk was about how much more explosive the offense could be with Parker leading the way. Sure, his top three receivers are playing on Sundays now, but Parker's shown glimpses of making the Clemson offense explosive in 2010. Of his 15 completions, five have been for over 20 yards or more.

Dwayne Allen remains Clemson's biggest threat in any facet of the passing game. The wide receiver group remains unproven but there are early signs of separation between Jaron Brown, Bryce McNeal, DeAndre Hopkins and Brandon Clear and the rest of the field.

Of Kyle Parker's 15 completions this year, five have been for over 20 yards or more. (Getty Images)
The running backs, Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington have to be mentioned when talking about Clemson's potential pass catchers.

Auburn's secondary returns two former starters who missed all of last season. Safety Aairon Savage not only missed 2009 because of an Achilles but he also missed 2008 with a knee injury. He's second on the team with 13 tackles, including one for loss.

Savage's backup, Mike McNeil missed all of 2009 because of a broken leg he suffered during the spring.

Fellow safety Zac Etheridge went down against Ole Miss last season with a season-ending neck injury. He has 10 tackles through both games this season—he's started both.

Carter and Fairley ranked among the nation's best pass rushers with three sacks a piece. As a team, Auburn has seven.

Clemson's offensive line hasn't seen a challenging pass rush yet this season. The Tigers rank 10th in the country in sacks allowed per game, having given up just two all year.

Auburn's pass defense has struggled so far this season. The Tigers rank 73rd in the nation with a 226 yards against average.

Too close to call.


Demond Washington is third among all SEC kick returners with 27.1 yards per return. He had 126 kickoff returns against Arkansas State, which is 12th best in school history. Quindarius Carr has an 8.3 yards per return average on punts.

Lou Groza Award candidate Kicker Wes Byrum is on pace to become Auburn's all-time leading scorer this season. His blocked field goal in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State snapped a streak of nine consecutive makes.

Chandler Catanzaro is 11 of 11 on extra points and knocked down his only field goal attempt of the season last week- from 47 yards. (Roy Philpott)
Auburn has blocked an extra-point in both games this season.

Ryan Shoemaker is averaging 39.3 yards a punt.

Clemson punter Dawson Zimmerman is the nation's top punter, averaging 49.78 yards per punt. Marcus Gilchrist is sixth with 23.75 yards per punt return.

Chandler Catanzaro is 11 of 11 on extra points and knocked down his only field goal attempt of the season last week- from 47 yards. Even though he's walking into the lion's den this week, special teams coordinator Andre Powell raves about Catanzaro's collected demeanor.

Fumbles have been a bit of a problem in Auburn's return game and Clemson has forced a couple of turnovers in its coverage this season.

As good as the ACC Tigers have been returning the ball, there's room for improvement.


Newton has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country this season. He's completed 60.6 percent of his passes, for 322 yards and five touchdowns.

Newton has thrown just one interception bthis season but he'll be facing a ball hawking secondary that has a knack for making plays. DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall were two of the most active safeties in the nation last year, combining for 14 interceptions. (Roy Philpott)
Wide receiver Darvin Adams and Fannin have both averaged over 15 yards per reception. As mentioned earlier, Fannin is questionable this week.

Newton has thrown just one interception bthis season but he'll be facing a ball hawking secondary that has a knack for making plays. DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall were two of the most active safeties in the nation last year, combining for 14 interceptions. Gilchrist is among the top cornerbacks in the ACC and Byron Maxwell is the big, physical kind of cornerback that's need to matchup with Adams and Terrell Zachery.

Auburn is tied for 46th in the country in sacks allowed. Da'Quan Bowers, Andre Branch, Malliciah Goodman are the top pass rushers for Clemson. It's a rare challenge in facing Newton, who's just as big, if not bigger than any of them.

Clemson has shown a knack for getting to the quarterback, averaging four a game.

Look for Kevin Steele to dial up some creative pass rushes in order to make things difficult for Newton.


PREDICTION: Auburn 38 Clemson 31 Top Stories