Auburn Football: 7 Keys to the Tigers Beating Clemson
Kickoff is here. The Auburn Tigers are five days away from the season opener against Clemson in Atlanta.
Clemson took the Tigers from Auburn to the woodshed in the second half of last season’s game and Auburn remembers the beatdown well. Auburn won’t be looking back to 2011 for motivation, but the game is not forgotten in the Tigers' locker room.
Both teams will be looking for key wins to launch themselves into the winner's circle to start the 2012 season. Auburn must see these seven goals through if they expect to defeat Clemson in Atlanta, and push forward with a great 2012 campaign.
Offensive Line Must Settle
Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE
The Tigers had a major shakeup this past weekend along the offensive line with the indefinite suspension of starting center Reese Dismukes after an arrest for public intoxication.
The Tigers staff had to shuffle the offensive line rotation to make up for the loss of Dismukes, but the mix and match is not too extreme. The major moves pushed Chad Slade inside to right guard and landed Avery Young—true freshman tackle—on the outside at the right tackle position.
In Dismukes’ place is Tunde Fariyike, a rising sophomore that has been a center since arriving on the Plains, taking snaps behind Dismukes in mop up duty last fall.
The Tigers will have John Sullen at left guard, and Greg Robinson will anchor the left side of the line, lining up at left tackle.
Sullen, Slade and Robinson were all expected to earn starts. Losing Dismukes will hurt but he is being replaced by a player with some experience. The biggest question surrounds the right and left tackle positions, where the Tigers will start two players with no college game experience.
Greg Robinson has been receiving rave reviews since arriving on the Plains a year ago, and Avery Young has received the same. They will be the keys to the Tigers' line continuity. Tackles tend to be the root of most false start calls—having any mental issues in Atlanta will spell danger for the Tigers' new offense looking for the right groove.
This will not be an issue of whether the Tigers can block the defensive line, but how well the Tigers communicate. How will Fariyike adapt to the major stage on which he now finds himself?
If Auburn can use the leadership found in Sullen and Slade to help settle Fariyike and the line as a whole early, Auburn should be OK in this first game. Don’t expect them to be error-free or to have an amazing performance upfront. A manageable performance will be good enough.
This line must settle early to push the new offense over the hill and into the end zone.
Kiehl Frazier Needs to Find Consistency
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE
Kiehl Frazier doesn’t need to have an all-star performance, he simply needs to find consistency for the Tigers at quarterback in Atlanta.
Auburn searched for consistent play last season and tried three different quarterbacks to get positive results. It was to no avail as the Tigers were consistently bad from the position last season.
Enter Kiehl Frazier, a rising sophomore that played predominantly as the Tigers' wildcat quarterback last season. Frazier was able to attempt 12 scripted pass plays, but most fell incomplete and three were intercepted.
Frazier will enter as a relatively new player at the position despite the experience he gained running the ball last fall.
The Clemson defense will be looking to pressure Frazier into mistakes and force the young quarterback into making bad decisions by putting him in tough scenarios. If Frazier can stay away from big play mistakes and play with consistency, the Tigers will be successful in this game.
Frazier can’t attempt to force big plays or make big runs too often or the Tigers will pay for the mistakes that will come. Staying methodical in his choices will bring success for the newly installed Auburn offense.
McCalebb, Mason and Blakely
John Reed-US PRESSWIRE
Auburn will rely on Onterio McCalebb, Tre Mason and Mike Blakely to run the ball in the first week. At least one of the three will have to come up with big plays and it needs to happen more than once.
Auburn will look to march down the field this season instead of the one-and-done explosive scores that were witnessed in the past. The trio of backs that Auburn will employ will need to have a few big plays to spark the offense early.
Auburn will start McCalebb at the position, but Mason and Blakely will likely draw a good share of the snaps from scrimmage as well.
McCalebb is Auburn’s quick-strike player. He will be looked upon to provide speed to the outside and consistency in the passing game out of the backfield for Auburn.
Mason and Blakely will be the workhorse options for Auburn in Atlanta. Both will be expected to tote the rock between the tackles with success. Whomever makes the biggest strides through the middle will continue to get the carries.
Look for Auburn to push the trio to the limit in the first week, as the coaches will likely limit the exposure of Frazier to the new passing attack. If Auburn can win this game on the ground, they will. These three backs will determine whether or not it is an option.
Pass Rush Finds Consistent Pressure
John Reed-US PRESSWIRE
During last season’s capitulation against Clemson, Auburn struggled to get a pass rush moving into the Clemson's backfield. That has to change in this game.
Auburn has one of the best defensive lines in the country heading into the new season, so the expectation is that the Tigers will be very good upfront and will play in their opponents' backfields often in 2012.
The Tigers will have to consistently find ways to put star Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd on his back. Auburn will face two new offensive tackles and will look to leverage their speed and ability at defensive end to exploit the new Clemson anchors.
Auburn also has elite players in the middle of the line that will have enough speed to break into the backfield from the center of the line.
For this game to end favorably for Auburn, they have to consistently find ways to pressure Boyd and keep the speed option from turning up field. The defensive line must also avoid overrunning plays—that is a key to the success of Clemson’s offense.
Third Receiving Option Appears
John Reed-US PRESSWIRE
Auburn has two marquee receiving options in Philip Lutzenkirchen and Emory Blake. Finding a third option from the receiving corps is a must for Auburn to find success in Week 1.
Auburn is not going to ask Kiehl Frazier to win the game with his arm, but he will be required to make key throws in the opener. Those completions won't come easy for either one of his primary receiving options.
Onterio McCalebb will be a force in the passing game for Auburn out of the backfield, but having McCalebb as the third leading receiver will be a bad sign. Auburn must have Quan Bray, Travante Stallworth or Trovon Reed step up big.
Finding a third option in the receiving corps will add a new dimension to Auburn's offense and help develop the comfort level for Kiehl Frazier in the pocket as the season progresses.
Secondary Proves Talent Matches Output
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The Auburn secondary will be full of talented players as they enter the 2012 season, but the Tigers are very young and have limited experience at key positions.
The Tigers must breed positive results this fall—something that has been missing in the past three seasons. Auburn has been terrible in pass defense and the Tigers were shredded by Clemson last season.
Auburn will have leadership with Ryan Smith, T’Sharvan Bell and Jermaine Whitehead taking the field, but they will have little experience left to fill out the secondary.
Tajh Boyd will feel the pressure of the Auburn front seven. If the Tigers' secondary doesn’t finish with a big game in the season opener, Clemson may be able to find yardage on big plays.
This is the game where the Tigers have to bring it all together in the secondary and create turnovers. Auburn has the talent, now that talent has to match output.
Linebackers Settle Against Misdirection
John Reed-US PRESSWIRE
The Auburn Tigers will enter Week 1 with a lot of experience at the linebacker position. Auburn will have two seniors and one junior as the listed starters, with quality experienced backups filling out the two-deep for Auburn.
Still, the Tigers had issues stopping opposing offenses last season, and a number of the issues stemmed from linebacker play.
Auburn will start the season with a lot of pressure being laid at the feet of the linebackers—especially Jake Holland in the middle. Holland has been consistently inconsistent in his time on the Plains, but this needs to be his year.
One of the biggest tests that the Tigers will face this week against Clemson will be the misdirection that is built into the speed option. If the linebackers can stay home and read the plays well, Auburn will be dangerous defensively.
The effectiveness of Auburn’s defensive calls will rely on the linebacker reaction to the Clemson offense. The three starters have seen Clemson’s offense for years—Chad Morris mimicked the Gus Malzahn offense when building his scheme. Failing to make proper reads will not be an option or excuse.