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Auburn vs. Clemson: 10 Things You Should Know about the Clemson Tigers

Russ StantonContributor IIISeptember 13, 2011

Auburn vs. Clemson: 10 Things You Should Know about the Clemson Tigers

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    The Auburn Tigers go on the road for the first time this season to take on the Clemson Tigers in their 48th meeting this Saturday.

    Games between the two have always had an underlying rivalry that goes back to their beginnings, their first meeting taking place in 1899, 112 years ago. That’s a lot of history, and the teams share mascots, colors and a few other things.

    This is not a conference game, but Clemson has always brought something extra to bear in their games with Auburn, SEC, ACC or not. This year should be no different, and there is a lot of familiarity with each other.

    Connections abound between the two, even beyond the history that really got Clemson football going in the first place—but that’s another article.

    Auburn head coach Gene Chizik began his coaching career in 1988-89 as a Clemson graduate assistant coach working with the linebackers.

    But it doesn't stop there. Take a look at Slide No. 9—Tradition: Clemson & Auburn History and Connections—it gets a little spooky how these guys are connected all over the staff.

    Suffice it to say these guys know each other very well. But this is business, and both teams want to get to that 3-0 mark.

    What else should you know about Clemson?            

Chad Morris; a New Offensive Strategy

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    Chad Morris began his new job this year at Clemson as their offensive coordinator, and so far his efforts are showing some fruit with his unit scoring a 42-17 win over Troy and a 35-27 win over Wofford this past weekend.

    Yes, it was Troy and Wofford, not a supreme test of the efforts, but make no mistake because they are in smaller conferences. Wofford, last year’s conference champion, played some tough football against the Tigers.

    Yet, Morris has the right attitude in that he is not satisfied with the physical, tough-minded approach he promised in the preseason. He would prefer that his offense be nastier and more physical in their game.

    They could step it up a notch this weekend against Auburn, a matchup that is steeped in history with an underlying rivalry.

    Auburn’s defense has sputtered in its first two games-- but managed to hold off a very good Mississippi State offense that just didn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders this past weekend.

    Chad Morris admits he’s only been using about 50-55 percent of what he has in his offensive arsenal, which means that some surprises could come Auburn’s way, which means there may be things coming out that Auburn may not see in reviewing the first two Clemson game films.

    Auburn’s defense, as young and inexperienced as they are, may not be up to handling surprises. Plus, if the offense brings that tough attitude that Morris wants, Auburn will have a tough afternoon in Clemson.

Tajh Boyd: A Well-Kept Secret

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    At 6’1” 225 pounds, this redshirt Sophomore QB from Hampton, Virginia, is starting to put up some impressive numbers for the Clemson offense. But, you really never hear about Tajh Boyd in mainstream media.

    That’s probably the way Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney wants it; that element of surprise can catch your opponents off guard.

    Boyd came into the program as a hot national recruit, turning down Oregon, Ohio State, West Virginia and Tennessee to come to Clemson.

    He is a pro-style, dual threat quarterback with a 4.7 40-yarder, equally adept at passing.

    His percentage ranged above 50 percent most of last year, even though he played behind Kyle Parker most of the time. But, this year he’s averaging a 64 percent completion rate with 525 yards of offense, six touchdowns and only one interception.

    Last week, he was 18 for 29, passing for 261 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first Clemson quarterback to throw for three touchdowns in back-to-back games since 2007.

    Auburn’s defense will need to contain him, getting aggressive with blitzes and the D-Line, against an O-Line that may be a little nastier this week.

Andre Ellington: Catch Me If You Can

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    He a triple threat tailback, running, receiving and even returning kickoffs.

    At 5’10” and 190 pounds, Ellington has a 6.3 yards per carry average, and reached 1,000 career yards with only 151 carries, the second fewest carries needed to reach 1,000 yards in Clemson history.

    In last week’s game, he got a real workout, and turned in 165 yards on 22 carries, one a 74-yard touchdown run, his career best.

    Those 22 carries also tie his career high, the first coming against Auburn last year, interestingly enough.

    He just came off a foot injury that took him out at mid-season last year, but by all indications he’s ready to roll.

    Again, the Auburn defense needs to concentrate on containment, up the middle and in the flats, because Andre Ellington could kill you, either running the ball or catching a pass in that area where the AU Tigers have had trouble, especially against Utah State.

Sammy Watkins: His Dreams Come True

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    He’s a true freshman at 6’1” and 200 pounds, and a threat in all-purpose running yardage.

    His performance last week earned him the ACC Rookie of the Week honors.

    Watkins gained 196 yards in total for the game against Wofford, which included five kickoff returns for 110 yards, four catches for 56 yards, and three rushes for 30 yards. The all-purpose total was the most by a Clemson freshman since 2001.

    He says that he dreamed about his second score against Troy in their first game, and it came true, exactly as he dreamed it.

    Auburn had better give him nightmares if they don’t want him to have a repeat sweet dream of a performance against them.

Defense: Lots of Missed Tackles…Sound Familiar?

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    The Clemson Tigers started this year after a losing season at 6-7 last year. That can get your mind wondering if you can do it, but also giving you a lot to prove, especially to the veterans.

    Clemson is 2-0 so far, but they haven’t really played major contenders like the Auburn Tigers yet.

    Also, in their first two games the defense missed a lot of tackles, even though Troy only scored 17 points to their 42,  they did give up 24 points in a much tighter game to Wofford last week.

    This prompted defensive coach Kevin Steele to propose they scrimmage Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to make sure they don’t miss tackles against AU.

    Clemson’s starting senior tackle Brandon Thompson admits that the game with Auburn this Saturday is the first real test of their defense.

    He feels they have a lot to prove, and he works on his tackling outside of the regular drills the defense goes through in practice.

    As far as something to prove, Thompson says, “I feel like we do, but in the sense of, we still look at ourselves as a 6-7 team, until we prove otherwise. We’ve got to go out there and prove to the world that what people saw last year, that’s not us this year.”

Momentum: Dabo Swinney’s Challenges

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    The way Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney sees it, the real challenge starts this week against Auburn, and he’ll be intensely prepping his troops for that battle.

    Clemson starts a similar gauntlet that Auburn faces starting in October. For the Clemson Tigers, they see Auburn as the defining game to start fighting up that hill.

    According to Swinney, they will take a lot of confidence from last year’s Auburn game, where Clemson led 17-0 but eventually came up on the losing end 27-24 in overtime.

    According to Orangeandwhite.com, Swinney says, “We’ve got a lot of guys on this team who have lined up and played against a team that won the national championship, and can draw on the experience. We can draw confidence from it, feel that they can line up and play against anybody.”

    Clemson is returning a lot of guys who played and lost in that game, so there may be some payback coming that Auburn should count on.

Clemson: The Next Team to Join the SEC?

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    Since the Texas A&M departure from the Big 12, or at least the attempt at it, expansion rumors are abundant in college football these days.

    Clemson might be a logical candidate to join the coveted minions of the SEC, rounding out the perceived even numbers required for the SEC Division races.

    A win over Auburn, the defending BCS and SEC champions, would be considered a very good interview for getting into that club.

    Not that the coaches would preach that in pregame pep talks, but it could be in the back of their minds and certainly the Clemson AD.

    Motivation takes on many forms, and this could be motivation enough for the Clemson Tigers and being in front of the hometown crowd.

Tradition: Clemson & Auburn History and Connections

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    Clemson has not put a W in that column against Auburn since 1951, when they beat Auburn 34-0 at Clemson.

    The Auburn Tigers have won the last 14 consecutive meetings, but the last two games have gone into overtime—the first in the 2007 Chick-fil-a Bowl with Auburn winning 23-20 and last year 27-24.

    Clemson did beat Auburn five times in six games under legendary head coach Frank Howard, from 1946-1951.

    This weekend’s game will be Auburn’s first trip to Clemson since 1970. That year Auburn won 44-0, and it was Clemson’s Homecoming: Ouch!

    And, the connections between Auburn and Clemson is a laundry list that makes networking on Facebook pale in comparison.

    I already told you about Auburn head coach Gene Chizik starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Clemson in 1988. But there's more. 

    Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof has worked with two key coaches now at Clemson; co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Geoff Collins while at Georgia Tech, and special teams coordinator Danny Pearman worked for Roof when he was head coach at Duke.

    Pearman also worked with Auburn secondary coach Tommy Thigpen at North Carolina.

    But the real interesting connection is on the offensive side.

    Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn are good friends and have parallel career paths.

    Both were high school coaches before they moved on to college, Malzahn at Arkansas and Morris at Tulsa.  When Morris was a high school coach in Texas and Malzahn was in Arkansas, Morris sought out Malzahn to learn his offense.

    Malzahn shared some ideas and now the two teams run basically the same offense. Eerily coincidental

    I could go on and on about the records, the connections and other historical references, and you can make your own inferences about the outcome of this weekend’s game based on that, if you like.

    The fact is that this is 2011, both teams are rebuilding, one from losing the lion’s share of its national championship team, the other from a losing season.

    The way this season is going, especially for Auburn, we won’t know anything until about 3:30 Saturday afternoon, EST.

Death Valley & Howard’s Rock

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    Officially, it’s Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium, but to everyone else it’s Death Valley.

    The story behind it is that the football coach at Presbyterian College, Lonnie McMillian, told sports writers in 1948 that he had to take his players up to Clemson and play in “death valley” where they rarely scored or gained a victory.

    The name really didn’t stick until legendary Clemson head coach Frank Howard started calling it that in the 1950s.

    It finally stuck when an alumnus, S.C. Jones gave Howard the now infamous “Howard’s Rock”, which he picked up in Death Valley, California.

    Both the rock and the stadium's name give some superstitious power over opponents, much like Auburn’s Voodoo Chicken over place kickers.

    Players must religiously touch the Rock on their way out to the field at Death Valley, to get their Mojo on and the opponent's Mojo gone.

    On top of that, it can get as loud as any stadium in the SEC with crowd noise, and it’s a definite advantage to the Clemson Tigers to play there.

    Remember, Auburn hasn't played in Death Valley since 1970.

It’s a Family, Sibling Rivalry Kind of Thing

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    Maybe you don’t know a lot about the history behind the Auburn and Clemson connection. Maybe you do.

    It goes back over 112 years ago. That was when Auburn and Clemson first played each other in 1899.

    But, have you ever wondered why Auburn and Clemson have the same mascot, the same colors? They both even have the “Tiger Walk”, where the players walk down a fan-lined walkway to the stadium prior to every game.

    Well, before their first meeting, around 1896, Walter M. Riggs, a player on the first Auburn football team and then graduate coach, left to start up a football program at Clemson. Before leaving Auburn, he hired legendary John Heisman, for whom the trophy is named, as head coach at Auburn.

    Clemson had no school colors, no mascot, just a school. Riggs took with him old Auburn practice uniforms with jerseys that were navy and orange, and he branded the team the Clemson Tigers.

    So Auburn is like the big brother to Clemson, with Auburn being the foundation to the current Clemson football program.

    There’s more to the story in this related article, but it got me wondering.

    Family struggles between siblings are sometimes a forceful fight with the younger brother often feeling as if he has to fight harder to win out over the older one, usually to no avail.

    That may be what’s behind the undercurrent of rivalry that exists between the two schools, and even though the older brother, Auburn, holds a 34-11-2 record in their contests, the younger brother sometimes grows up and takes his older brother down.

    And, the bigger the accomplishments of the older brother, the more the younger one is motivated to prevail.

    We’ll see this week, but keep this in mind, if Clemson decides to rise up and show up his older brother Auburn.

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