AUBURN, Ala. — Think Deshaun Watson is Auburn’s biggest worry on Saturday? Think again.
OK, it’s true. The Heisman frontrunner and 2015 finalist will be a major source of attention for the Auburn defense, but the problem with Clemson’s offense: He can’t be the sole attention-getter. That’s what makes the visiting Tigers such a point-scoring threat when they arrive at Jordan-Hare Stadium for a 9 p.m. ET kickoff on Saturday.
“They’ve got very good pieces around him. Their receivers are outstanding. Their running back is very impressive,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I think that sometimes gets overlooked in the big picture.”
Watson is the ring leader of an explosive group of offensive skill players. Need proof? Just look at last season’s All-ACC team, or one of the many preseason All-American watch lists.
Junior wide receiver Artavis Scott has his name pop up at receiver and the all-purpose slot. He accumulated 921 yards of total offense last season with 7 touchdowns. Despite missing all of last season with an injury, senior receiver Mike Williams returns after a 1,000-yard year in 2014. He made several preseason watch lists too.
There’s also Hunter Renfrow, the former walk-on receiver who caught 3 touchdown passes during the team’s two College Football Playoff games in 2015. He’s not a walk-on anymore.
All in all, Clemson returns four of its top five receivers from last season — Scott, Renfrow, Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud.
It makes life even tougher for opposing secondaries when a quarterback as talented as Watson has the perimeter weapons as dangerous as that corps of receivers looking to fulfill the NFL legacy of DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant.
“I watch a lot of film, even outside of meeting with coaches. When I watch film on them, they’re a really good receiving corps,” Auburn defensive back Josh Holsey said. “They’ve got a lot of depth. They’ve got a lot of talent at each and every spot. They’ll be a good challenge for us for the first game to see how we respond to it.”
That doesn’t even mention senior tight end Jordan Leggett, who heads up many preseason All-American teams at that position. And it also hasn’t even broached the threat of who Watson can hand the ball off to when running the zone-read — junior Wayne Gallman.
Running back talk happened often this offseason. Leonard Fournette at LSU, Jalen Hurd at Tennessee, Nick Chubb at Georgia, Christian McCaffrey at Stanford and Dalvin Cook at Florida State steal most of the spotlight in those conversations.
But Gallman deserves to be thrust into that discussion, even though he might continue to be overshadowed all season by Clemson’s lengthy list of skill players. He rushed for 1,527 yards with 13 touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry in 2015. Gallman added another 213 yards and 1 touchdown in the passing game.
So when Watson isn’t throwing it to his who’s who of wide receivers, or taking off on his own, he can hand it off to Gallman, who can run, break tackles and score touchdowns with the best of them.
“A lot of times he gets kinda lost in the whole deal, but he’s an excellent running back. He breaks tackles. They have a very good running game to go along with their pass game,” Malzahn said. “Obviously last year, one of the top (offenses) in the country. They got most of their guys back. So, you know, you expect them to be one of the better offenses in college football again this year.”