Auburn Football: Players Who Must Step Up for Tigers to Upset Clemson

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Emory Blake #80 of the Auburn Tigers against the Virginia Cavaliers during the 2011 Chick Fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Auburn hasn't lost its opener since 2005 against Georgia Tech. Clemson hasn't lost its opener since 2008 against Alabama. One of those streaks will have to end on Saturday when the dueling Tigers face off in a marquee Week 1 game.

Clemson enters the game as the favorite, but only by a small margin, as the teams are pretty evenly matched. Let's take a look at three Auburn players who will need to rise to the occasion for their version of the Tigers to emerge victorious.


Onterio McCalebb

With Michael Dyer out of the picture, McCalebb is expected to become Auburn's workhorse for the first time in his career. The senior has never carried the ball more than 112 times in a season, but that will change if he lives up to expectations.

He's gained more than 2,000 yards on the ground and nearly 500 more in the passing game during his three seasons, but has always been viewed as the second backfield option during that time. He has enough talent to thrive as a starter, though.

It will be vital for Auburn to set the pace early. The Tigers don't want to get in a shootout with Clemson given its big-play weapons. So it's up to McCalebb to grind out yards on the ground to take pressure off of quarterback Kiehl Frazier.


Emory Blake

When Auburn does go to the air, Blake will be the go-to guy. He made just 36 receptions last season, but illustrated his game-breaking potential with a per-catch average of 17 yards. That forces defenses to at least respect the passing game.

It's impossible to state how important that is to the offense. Every opposing team knows that Auburn is going to rely heavily on the rushing attack to generate points. But having a player like Blake on the outside who can expose single coverage by making big plays is huge.

Don't be surprised to see a play-action pass called relatively early in an attempt to catch the Clemson defense off guard. A long completion early would really help Frazier's confidence and open up more options for the rest of the game.


Corey Lemonier

While scoring enough points to keep up with Clemson will obviously be key, Auburn won't win unless it finds a way to contain Tajh Boyd. Clemson's quarterback threw for more than 3,800 yards and 33 touchdowns last season.

The best way to stop him from dominating is a huge game from Lemonier, the star defensive end. The more time he spends in the Clemson backfield, the better the chances are that Auburn's defense will be able to stand tall for all four quarters.

Lemonier led the team with 9.5 sacks last season and will be looking to eclipse the double-digit barrier this season. Boyd did throw 13 interceptions last year, so if the Auburn defense line can put constant pressure on him, it will force the turnovers needed to pull of the upset.