Monday, August 27, 2012

Tigers v Tigers - Prediction

Sometime later this week Clemson will take a familiar route down I-85 to Atlanta's Georgia Dome.  Between games against the 10th Street Trade School and Peach Bowls, Clemson has plenty of experience playing in the Big City.*

However, familiarity has not bred success as they have not won a game in Atlanta since dual wins in 2003, including a 39-3 thrashing of said Trade School and a 27-14 thumping of Tennessee in the Peach Bowl.  In that span, they have lost a Peach Bowl, kick-off game to Bama, and four games to some players who aren't even able to sing their own fight song.

How will that effect Saturday night's game against Auburn?  It won't.

Those games have no bearing on this game.  And while the Clemson fans are familiar with Atlanta, the players are not.  Other than a trip or two to Bobby Dodd, none of these players have even played in the Georgia Dome.  Neither has this coaching staff.

So while these players are not familiar with the Dome, they are familiar with Auburn, having played each of the last two years.

And that's what really matters.

So when Clemson enters the Dome against their multi-mascoted step-brothers from Auburn, they won't be concerned with the surroundings or stage as much as their opponents.  And that's a good thing.

*The tradition of the $2 bills first got its start in Atlanta in 1977 in response to the Trade School not wanting to travel to the Promised Land.  The series had a short hiatus, but when it returned, the first game was in Clemson and the teams have alternated venues ever since.

To figure out which team has the best chance of winning, let's look at a few key factors that may play out Saturday night:

Coaching Staff
Typically, when you compare a Championship coach with Dabo, the Championship coach wins.  The lone exception - Gene Chizik.

Most of the credit for Chizik's ring goes to Gus Malzahn, Cam Newton, and the Bag Man, not him.  This is his chance to change that as he has a new OC and DC.

I like the DC hire, but know little about the OC other than he coached Tebow (not exactly a ringing endorsement).

On Dabo's side is Chad Morris and Brent Venables.  Morris is a Malzahn disciple who may soon overtake the master.  Venables has a great reputation from Oklahoma, but is somewhat starting from scratch.

Edge - Clemson, only because The TigerSwag expects Chizik to spend most of the 4th quarter picking his own gum off the bottom of his shoe, not realizing it won't disappear in the Dome turf.

7 on 7 – Offense
Clemson could compete against the nation's best in this category with Boyd, Watkins, Hopkins, & Ellignton.  However, Watkins is not eligible and won't travel with the team.  And regardless of who the tight end is, he will be no Dwayne Allen.

For Auburn, it's nearly the opposite.  Their most known quantity is tight end Philip L (going to treat him like Coach K - just easier that way).  But just because their skill players names aren't known, doesn't mean there isn't talent.  The backs are quick and explosive, especially Tre Mason, while the receivers are quick and experienced.  The main question will be whether Frazier can be stable and consistent enough to produce points, especially in clutch situations.

Edge - Clemson, even without Watkins, because of Boyd, Hopkins, & Ellington - and Morris' coaching.

7 on 7 – Defense
Welcome to the tallest midget contest.  Not saying there isn't talent, it's just that this group is a huge question mark for both squads. 

Clemson must replace Sensabaugh and Jenkins, but does have Breeland & Meeks returning.  Also, Clemson returns potential All-American Stephone Anthony and upstart Lateek Townsend.  And if Steward gets fully healthy, watch out.

For Auburn, the good news is they return every member of last year's secondary.  The bad news?  They return every member from last year's secondary.  They will need vast improvement, but I'm afraid VanGorder's blitz-happy scheme will leave them on islands more than they need to be.  At linebacker, the upside is great, but experience may cost them, especially with what VanGorder will ask them to do.

Edge - I would consider the defensive backs a wash, but because of Clemson's talent and potential at linebacker, and Venables scheme for them, they get the edge.

Big Nasties – Offense
Auburn is young on the offensive line, but experienced.  Three of their projected starters played significant snaps last year.  And they are high on the two redshirt freshman.  There are no major stars here, but they've taken their lumps and are looking for a big year.**

On Clemson's side, they return two starters, including All-ACC center Dalton Freeman.  Also of major importance is the return of Thompson at left tackle.  So, while the two key positions return, the other three will be new - and have less than 100 snaps of experience, combined.

Edge - While Clemson returns two key positions, and is bringing some increased nasty in Tyler Shatley, the experience - and potential - of Auburn's young line wins.

**Since this was originally written, starting center Reese Dismukes has been suspended for public intoxication.  The extent of his suspension is not known.  Depending on the length, this category may go to push.  Unless he was joined by the remainder of Auburn's line, this category will never swing Clemson's way.

Big Nasties – Defense
For years, Clemson’s defensive big nasties have been the anchor of the defense, and how the D-Line played, so did the defense.  Last year was the exception as the D-Line played fairly well while the remainder of the D, not so well.  Things will swing back to normal this year as Clemson’s D-Line will tell the tale of the game - and their season.  It is young, inexperienced, but uber-talented.  The key will be finding someone to replace the loss of Andre Branch on the end and Brandon Thompson in the middle.  If Clemson can find a big body for the middle and a quick pass rusher on the end, they’ll be okay.  If not, pray for the 7 on 7 Offense.

For Auburn, their defensive line struggled last year.  But they were young and undersized.  Now they’re a bit older and a bit bigger and a bit more experienced.  And I expect them to play well.  They have talent on both the inside and outside – and if you focus on one too much, the other will burn you.  They haven’t made the headlines of LSU or UCS, but they have the opportunity to be in that group if they stay healthy and play to their potential.

Edge – Auburn due to their experience and potential to be great.

Special Teams
Both teams offer fantastic kick return units, though Clemson may miss not having Watkins; however, the rule change may negate this part of the game anyway.  As a result, I expect plenty of touchbacks as both kickers have big legs.

Last year, the Auburn punting unit became one of its best offensive weapons by pinning opponents inside the 20 an amazing 33 times.  Clemson’s punting was effective, but not great.  The punting edge goes to Auburn, especially with Clemson breaking in a new punter.

The final piece of the special teams unit is the field goal squad.  The Cat Man become one of the nation’s most dependable kickers nailing 22-27, including a game winner against Wake that sent Clemson to the ACC Championship Game.  Auburn's kicker, Mr. Parkey has potential, but has yet to show it.  He could easily bounce back this year the way Catanzaro did last year, but until he proves it, Clemson leads here.

Edge – Push, though the Cat Man may give Clemson the edge if it comes down to needing a late three.

Prediction
Auburn comes out fired up, ready to show the world last year was a blip on the radar.  The new coordinators want to prove themselves, and it shows.  On the other side, Clemson hasn’t quite shaken the Orange Bowl and feels like they need to score 71 to win, and the pressure shows.  Clemson’s young offensive line has trouble getting their calls and the Auburn defensive line shows their potential.  The result, Auburn jumps out to an early double digit lead.

Following the initial onslaught, Clemson exhales, begins to find a rhythm, and starts putting points on the board.  The defense relaxes, plays their scheme, and has some success rattling Auburn’s young quarterback.  Both teams go into the half within three of each other.

Clemson comes out in the third quarter and begins to establish themselves as they take the lead.  The defensive success continues and they stretch it to two touchdowns.  Auburn makes a late charge and has the ball with a chance to win or tie, but the defense holds and the offense is able to bleed the clock.

The result?  Clemson starts the year 1-0 and has a few weeks to prepare for a huge matchup in Tallahassee.

And because of these keys, The TigerSwag says take Clemson, buy the hook, lay the 2.5 and stay away from the O/U.

And see if Dabo goes viral - again:

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