Heading into Saturday's edition of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, the Clemson Tigers hold an edge by the slightest of margins. In a game with three new coordinators, Clemson's offense is the one constant that makes this otherwise even matchup tilt toward the Tigers from Pickens County.
Comparing offense to offense, Clemson clearly outclasses Scot Loeffler's group. Defense to defense, and you have about as close a wash as you can get.
Brian VanGorder's unit is sound up front, but in the back seven, it has plenty of issues. Brent Venables has a couple of good bodies up front, quality linebackers, but they are going to be plugging similar holes in the secondary.
In this ballgame, Clemson's offense is the difference-maker. When Kiehl Frazier and Auburn take the field to try to score, there will be moments where they look like world-beaters.
Emory Blake, Philip Lutzenkirchen and Onterio McCalebb are savvy vets that the quarterback can lean on to produce. However, the Auburn offense is also going to have its hiccups. It's a new scheme—no substitution patterns, new adjustments. It's going to look downright terrible at times, and that's part of the growing pains of changing schemes.
The same can be said for both Clemson defenses.
Clemson is going to help make Frazier look great sometimes by flat-out screwing up Brent Venables' zone-based scheme. The Venables-led Tigers are also going to look like a suffocating defense during the times that Frazier makes the wrong read, makes a poor adjustment or the young offensive line fails to set the right blocking scheme.
Which is why a polished Clemson offense versus a green Auburn defensive scheme gives the edge to the boys from South Carolina.
Unlike Frazier, Tajh Boyd is not working on getting a handle on this Chad Morris offense. Instead, he and Andre Ellington, Nuke Hopkins and Dalton Freeman are working on mastering the wrinkles of the up-tempo scheme.
That advancement in the offense is critical, because that opens up the playbook for the Clemson Tigers—and in facing an inexperienced defense, a big playbook is an offense's best friend.
VanGorder's defense is going to go through the same ups and downs as Loeffler's offense and Venables' defense. The difference is, while Loeffler and Venables will be playing each other in a game of inexperienced scheme on inexperienced scheme, VanGorder's inexperienced scheme will be matched against a veteran look.
A veteran look means more wrinkles, more ability to self-scout and get off tendency, and a better rapport between receivers and quarterback in an effort to take advantage of areas of opportunity. Included in the veteran look is a seasoned center who understands defensive fronts and can put the line in the proper blocking scheme.
In short, VanGorder and his still-learning defense are going to have their hands full come Saturday night, and that's without Clemson's stud receiver Sammy Watkins in the lineup.