AUBURN TIGERS (1-0)
at CLEMSON TIGERS (1-0)
Clemson Memorial Stadium – Clemson, SC
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: Clemson -5.5, Total: 53.5
Will a rematch of last year's early-season slugfest between #13 Auburn and #3 Clemson yield a higher point total?
Anticipated as one of the marquee games on the opening weekend of the 2016 college football season, Clemson vs. Auburn lived up to its billing in at least some regard. It was a close game, with Clemson never leading by more than 10 points, and Auburn had the ball within Clemson territory with a shot to win it as time expired. As far as quality of play, though, the showdown was something of a disappointment. Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson completed 19–of-34 passes for 248 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and his Clemson offense stalled against an elite SEC defense. After an unimpressive early stretch of the year, Clemson, of course, went on to win the National Championship. Auburn's offense was even less inspiring, as QB Sean White completed less than 50% of his passes for only 140 yards and an interception. This season, each team enters the rematch--this one in South Carolina--with a new man under center. For Clemson, it's junior QB Kelly Bryant, a dual-threat signal caller in the mold of his predecessor. For Auburn, it's Baylor transfer QB Jarrett Stidham, who immediately becomes Auburn's best quarterback since the days of Cam Newton (or at least Nick Marshall). Keep an eye on Auburn's talented stable of running backs, as the program is 51-25 ATS since 1992 when rushing for 5.5 or more yards per attempt. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, Clemson is 6-0 ATS when gaining between 300 and 350 net passing yards. Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson is questionable to play, but the team has said it is "hopeful" that he will.
Clemson got an easy opponent in Kent State for Week 1, and took care of business with a 56-3 victory against a 37-point spread. It was a relief, as their aforementioned slow start to 2016 included a near-loss to Troy. (Admittedly, Troy is a stronger program than Kent State.) Bryant looked sharp in his debut, completing 16-of-22 passes for 236 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed seven times for 77 yards and a TD, including a 47-yard scramble. Clemson returns championship-level talent on both sides of the ball this year, but many wonder how they'll cope with the loss of perhaps college football's best player in Watson. While Bryant has a long way to go before he would reach that level, he looked like the full package in his debut. RB Wayne Gallman also graduated this past offseason, leaving RBs C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster as the team's leading returning rushers. It was a freshman who led the Tigers in rushing against Kent State, though, as four-star RB Travis Etienne ran eight times for 81 yards and a touchdown. Feaster went six carries for 69 yards and a touchdown, while Fuller went seven for 51 and two touchdowns. Head coach Dabo Swinney will likely continue to use multiple backs. A stunning 15 Tigers caught at least one pass against Kent State, which was largely a function of the blowout. None caught more than three. Clemson is replacing three of its top four receivers from 2016, but leading returning receiver WR Deon Cain caught two passes for 70 yards and a touchdown against KSU, while TE Milan Richard got off to a strong start in filling the departed Jordan Leggett's shoes by also catching two passes for 70 yards. The defense held the Golden Flashes to only 120 total yards. The Tigers gained 665.
For its part, Auburn just failed to cover a 35-point spread in a season-opening triumph over Georgia Southern, but still utterly dominated the Eagles over the course of 60 minutes of game time. They put up 535 total yards to Georgia Southern's pitiful 78, and gained 25 first downs to the Eagles' eight. Committing three turnovers and only forcing one ultimately prevented the Tigers from covering, though. Stidham played well, if not spectacularly, in his Auburn debut, completing 14-of-24 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He put up enormous numbers when playing as a Baylor freshman two seasons ago (11.6 YPA), and it will be interesting to see as the season goes on how his skills translate from that (once) high-flying offense to Auburn's more plodding style. He also rushed for a 14-yard touchdown last weekend, opening up the game after the Tigers led only 10-7 midway into the second quarter. Where Auburn really dominated, though, was on the ground. Johnson led the team with 136 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and did so by the second quarter. Unfortunately, that was the point at which he pulled up with a leg injury and left the game for good. Obviously, the Tigers will be better off if he's good to go against Clemson. He's Auburn's "balanced" running back, with sophomore RB Kam Martin being the speedster. Martin rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against GSU. Auburn was actually without its bruiser—and its leading rusher from last season—in Kamryn Pettway, who was serving a single-game suspension. Even if Johnson is unable to play against Clemson, Pettway and Martin will form a formidable and versatile backfield. Stidham's favorite target in his debut was WR Will Hastings, who caught four passes for 68 yards.