The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - It was a star-studded affair for the ages when Clemson and Auburn met in Jordan-Hare Stadium last September.

WHAT: Clemson vs. Auburn
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (80,301) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 17 (12 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -3
TV: ABC

The SEC Tigers prevailed with a thrilling 27-24 overtime win against the Tigers of the ACC.

Auburn went on to a dream season, which ended with a Heisman Trophy winner and a national championship ring.

Clemson stumbled to a 6-7 finish that ended with a disappointing bowl and an even more disappointing loss.

Looking for a kick start to his offense, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney went out and hired up and coming coordinator Chad Morris, who, during his only season as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa, engineered the Golden Hurricane offense to over 500 yards and 41 points a game.

Morris' friend and mentor, Gus Malzahn, oversaw an Auburn offense, which averaged 499 yards and 41 points a season ago.

Here we are, almost a full year to the day since their last clash, Clemson and Auburn.

High-octane offense versus high-octane offense at high noon in Death Valley.

CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. AUBURN FRONT
Coming into this season, everyone was certain about one thing in the Clemson offense -- Andre Ellington would be the featured running back.

What most didn't predict was the workload that he would have through the first two games.

Ellington has carried 40 times for 254 yards and a touchdown. His 127 yards per game average ranks 14th in the country.

Problem is, so far, no real threat has emerged behind him. Tajh Boyd is second on the team with 20 carries, but his net yardage total is six -- because sacks count against his total.


Andre Ellington has carried 40 times for 254 yards and a touchdown in two games. His 127 yards per game average ranks 14th in the country. (Roy Philpott)
Mike Bellamy has rushed for 100 yards and a score, but 75 of those yards came in one play against Troy. He has only five carries this season.

Not only has he needed to demonstrate a better grasp of the playbook, Bellamy also had to prove in practice that he can consistently hold on to the football.

D.J. Howard, who originally committed to Auburn, has also carried five times this season. Of his 31 yards, 21 were on one carry.

After his first career carry, which went for a 10-yard loss, Sammy Watkins has rushed four times for 44 yards. He'll continue to be a threat on jet sweeps, reverses and end-around plays.

For the most part, the offensive line woes have centered around pass blocking, not run blocking. Aside from a few hiccups, the Clemson front has been decent enough when creating holes for Ellington in the first two games.

There was no doubt as to who the MVP of the Auburn defense was a year ago. And judging by the success Utah State and Mississippi State had rushing against Auburn this season, the Tigers sure could use Nick Fairley this year.

Auburn has given up an average of 280 yards rushing through two games. Only Middle Tennessee and UAB are worse as there are 117 other teams in the country that have fared better against the run.

Consider this, as well: Auburn starting defensive tackle Jefferey Whitaker, though offered by Clemson, was ultimately passed over by the ACC Tigers. His addition to the 2010 class would have helped fill a tremendous need, but Clemson chose to move in another direction because he was too stiff. In 14 games last season, Whitaker had only seven tackles.

Ellington runs wild, again.

Bellamy and Howard get early touches.

Watkins breaks off a big run.

Clemson puts up 200-plus yards.

ADVANTAGE:

AUBURN RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT
Cam Newton was the MVP of the Auburn offense last season -- no doubt about. The Heisman Trophy winner made the Tigers go, both running and throwing.

Left behind in the Auburn ground game is the smash and dash, thunder and lightning combination of Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb.

In his career, Dyer, the hammer back, has just 10 carries for negative yards [-21].

He leads Auburn in all rushing categories this season with 32 carries for 207 yards [6.5 yards per carry] with four touchdowns and a long run of 52 yards. Dyer is the only ball carrier with a touchdown on the ground this season.

McCalebb is second on the team in carries [20] yards [112]. His role, which typically puts him out on the edge and in space, is very much like what Clemson offensive coaches have in mind for Bellamy.


Michael Dyer, a former five-star running back on Scout.com, rushed for 150 yards last week against Mississippi State. (Getty Images)
Another explosive back, like McCalebb, is freshman Tre Mason, who's carried just four times this season.

The Auburn run game has yet to match the video game-like numbers put up a year ago. The Tigers are 59th in the country in rushing.

Third-down conversions have been a problem. Of the 21 third-down attempts, Auburn has converted seven. The 33 percent clip is tied for 84th in the country.

Troy and Wofford combined to convert 13 of 34 third-down attempts against Clemson. The 38 percent rate is 65th in the nation.

Clemson's run defense ranks higher than Auburn, but not by much. The ACC Tigers have allowed an average of 218.5 yards per game, which is 107th in the nation.

The loss of defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins and defensive end Da'Quan Bowers have been apparent. Both Troy and Wofford had success running the ball against Clemson. Auburn should do the same.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. AUBURN SPECIAL TEAMS
As evenly matched as the two teams are, it's the special teams units that could make the difference on Saturday, just as they were one year ago.

Mason has made a big-time impact in Auburn's kick return game. He leads the team with 10 returns for 348 yards. He scored on a 97-yard return for touchdown against Utah State.


Chandler Catanzaro is 3 of 4 on field goals this season and will likely need to even more accurate Saturday. (Roy Philpott)
Clemson has allowed an average of 18.3 yards per return, which ranks 32nd in the country. To this point, the Tigers' special teams units have enjoyed success against opponents with lesser talent. A kickoff to Mason will be the biggest test to date.

For Clemson, Watkins' threat as a kick returner has already been on display. He averages 22 yards per return with a long of 31. Bellamy has potential to explode, too. Ellington, of course, can also be counted on as an option.

Auburn's kicker, Cody Parkey, has eight touchbacks on 14 kickoffs. On average, his kicks have been returned to the 19-yardline.

Parkey, a sophomore, spent his freshman year as a kickoff specialist. He's hit both field goal attempts this season, with a long from 43. Still, he's yet to attempt a kick away from Jordan-Hare.

Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro has knocked down 3-of-4 field goal attempts, all from the 40-49 yard range.

Home field advantage gives the Tigers the advantage -- the Clemson Tigers, assuming there are no more wacky fake field goals called, of course.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. AUBURN SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Tajh Boyd has enjoyed a solid beginning to his career as Clemson's starting signal caller. The redshirt sophomore has completed 38 of 59 passes for 525 yards and six touchdowns with one interception.

His efficiency rating of 169.32 is 25th in the country.

Boyd ranks ahead of several notable quarterbacks -- E.J. Manuel, Aaron Murray, G.J. Kinne, Darron Thomas, Matt Barkley, John Brantley, Chris Relf, B.J. Daniels and Zach Maynard.

He's had the luxury of throwing to a supremely talented bunch of receivers.

Watkins has left little doubt as to who the biggest threat in the Clemson passing is. He leads the team with 11 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. His toughest challenges to date will lineup in front of him on Saturday.


Sammy Watkins leads Clemson with 11 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. (Roy Philpott)
Auburn cornerbacks T'Sharvan Bell and Chris Davis are big [5-10+] and experienced. To date, this season, they have not encountered as talented a wide receiver core as Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Martavis Bryant and Jaron Brown.

The safeties are led by an All-SEC caliber performer in Neiko Thorpe, who has 26 career pass breakups.

He and linebackers Jonathan Evans and Daren Bates will have their hands full with Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen, who's a matchup problem for anyone.

Pass rushers Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae have had limited opportunities to go after the quarterback. Auburn opponents have attempted only 47 passes this season -- thanks in large part to their success on the ground.

Momentum is in Boyd's favor to have another solid outing. Though he saw marked improvement from week one to week two, Wofford is a lesser opponent than Troy.

Judgment on how well Boyd will do against an automatic entry BCS team will be reserved for another week. That question-mark alone makes this too tight to call.

ADVANTAGE:

AUBURN PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Like Boyd, Barrett Trotter has been extremely efficient. He's completed 33 of 46 attempts for 407 yards and five touchdowns with an interception.

Trotter's efficiency rating of 177.58 is 17th in the country.


Like Boyd, Barrett Trotter has been extremely efficient. He's completed 33 of 46 attempts for 407 yards and five touchdowns with an interception. (Getty Images)
There are a few notable quarterbacks with ratings that fall between Trotter and Boyd.

Case Keenum, Andre Luck, Nike Foles and Kellen Moore.

Clemson welcomes back several members to a secondary that was pretty depleted against Wofford last week. Rashard Hall, who suffered a knee injury in the season opener, is back at free safety. Cornerback Xavier Brewer is done serving a one-game suspension, so is reserve safety Carlton Lewis.

They'll need all hands on deck against a talented group of Auburn wide receivers that's led by Emory Blake, who has a team-high 10 catches for 203 yards and two scores.

McCalebb, the Tigers' second leading receiver, could be a dangerous threat out of the backfield. Tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen is another pass catcher the Clemson linebackers and safeties will keep close watch over.

Lutzenkirchen is a threat, particularly in the red zone. Of his five catches, two were touchdowns.

Helping Clemson's cause is the inexperience Auburn has along its offensive line. The SEC Tigers have given up 1.5 sacks a game this season, and both games were within the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare. An amped up Death Valley could make things difficult with Andre Branch and Malliciah Goodman coming off the edge, to go along with the exotic blitz schemes Kevin Steele uses with his safeties and linebackers.

McCalebb out of the backfield and Blake downfield could potentially make this a difficult matchup for Clemson. However, Trotter has yet to start a game on the road, and prior to this season, all of his experience was in mop up duty behind Newton.

We think the Clemson defense turns it up a notch this week it keeps the Auburn passing attack at bay. Home team Tigers get the nod.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 39 Auburn 31

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