Clemson247.com writer, Paul Strelow (Twitter), was kind enough to answer this week’s set of “From the Other Sideline” questions, and he did a pretty dang good job. It might be the best interview of the series so far, and that has nothing to do with the fact that he picks Auburn to win. I promise.
1. What’s the first thing Clemson fans think of when they think of Auburn football?
Well, not sure I can speak for them. Probably first thing is the line that Auburn is Clemson without a lake. Secondly, I envision Bo Jackson running over folks. Third, I go back to Auburn’s overtime victory against Clemson in the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
2. What are the Purple Tigers major concerns for this game and the rest of the season?
For this game, there is the question whether the defense — particularly a suspect linebacker corps — can finally solve an opposing offense that uses zone-read runs and utilizes a mobile, scrambling quarterback. The defense was continually mauled by those components last season, so there is baited breath to learn whether a talented defensive front plays with more discipline and whether the 2-3 legit linebackers on the squad can carry out their assignments and not get lost in the wash.
While Dabo Swinney finally got Clemson over the hump and into the ACC title game last year — the standard that cost Tommy Bowden his job after a decade — there remains a segment of the fandom that is skeptical whether a holdover from the Bowden staff is the right man for the job long-term. In that sense, an eye is on whether this team continues to show growth in the fortitude and physical toughness departments.
In terms of personnel concerns, the jury remains out on whether a band of 6-7 young and unproven receivers won’t wet the bed against formidable competition, much like they did last year. Plus the placekicker is a redshirt freshman former walk-on yet to have to prove himself in a clutch situation.
3. What are some of the strengths of the 2010 squad?
The complexion of the season changed when quarterback Kyle Parker didn’t sign full-time baseball after being a first round pick of the Colorado Rockies. Parker gives Clemson a chance to win any game; he has a gunslinger mentality and the arm to make it work, plus he’s mobile and mentally unflappable.
Experience on the offensive line means everything, and after taking their lumps a few years ago, a corps group of four returning starters and a key interior sixth man return there.
You don’t replace C.J. Spiller’s electricity, but there will be little drop-off in ball-carrying production from the tandem of Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper, as much as outsiders may not believe it.
On defense, there are a lot of talented pieces who should wind up in the NFL in the coming years, headlined by S DeAndre McDaniel, DE Da’Quan Bowers, CB Marcus Gilchrist and DT Jarvis Jenkins.
4. Who are two players Auburn should look out for and why?
A. TE Dwayne Allen. Parker‘s too easy to choose. Here‘s betting his favorite target will be Allen, a 6-4, 255-pound sophomore whom observers expect to have a breakout year.
B. McDaniel. Bowers is a specimen, but McDaniel is the heart of this unit. He can be a ball-hawking center fielder or a guy you slide into the box as a hybrid outside linebacker. Gut feeling is if Clemson is to slow Gus Malzahn’s offense, he will have to be a factor.
5. Where do you expect these two teams to struggle/excel against each other?
Clemson’s biggest challenge will be keeping track of all the pre-snap motions and misdirections in Malzahn’s offense. Nickel defense will probably be its base package, and the CTigers have yet to show they can handle a running game with only a front six.
I’m curious to see how good Auburn’s pass defense is, although I’m not sure this will be a great indication because Clemson’s receivers haven’t been exposed to this kind of hostile environment before. And if Clemson’s defensive line is motivated, few offensive lines can handle the one-on-one matchups.
6. What do you think is the best and worst-case scenarios for Clemson this Saturday?
Best case: They hem Cam Newton into a pocket and force him to throw under duress; a balanced run-pass offense enables Clemson to sustain a few long drives that lead to touchdowns.
Worst case: Michael Dyer does a Marcus Lattimore impression and runs through a defense that tries to hit instead of tackle; Newton finishes with 90 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries; and Clemson’s receivers get “fried” by the magnitude of the moment, as coordinator Billy Napier once put it.
7. Do you think there is any added pressure on Clemson to win this game given the ACC’s struggles this season?
While they’ve heard about it all week, I don’t think that matters to them much. This game would speak more to Clemson’s validity, and I think that’s where their motivation is coming from.
8. Where do you see Clemson ending up this season?
I’ve gone between 9-3, 8-4.
9. Where do you see the Auburn ending up this season?
Haven’t studied their schedule. But I think they finish second in the West, yet beat Alabama. Probably tough to make that feasible, but that’s the gut feel.
10. What is your prediction/analysis for the game?
Auburn 35-28. Of course, that’s subject to change any second now. It’s becoming more of a closer debate the closer we’ve gotten to kick off.