Just in time for game day, Auburn answered its biggest question of the offseason last week when Gus Malzahn announced that Sean White will be reprising his role as the team’s starter at quarterback.
I know that going with White probably wasn’t the most popular choice among fans, but personally, I think Gus made the right call. Malzahn went with the most experienced player, not necessarily the most talented, and that’s a decision I can understand considering what’s on the line Saturday night against the No. 2 team in the country.
Auburn will be opening the season with a rare opportunity to play spoiler. But to knock off Clemson, White can’t do it alone and fans shouldn’t expect him to. Auburn is going to have to play flawlessly on both sides of the ball in order to keep pace with a Clemson team that put up almost 40 points per game last season, complemented by a top-15 defense. Not to mention that Clemson will have eight returning starters on offense including quarterback Deshaun Watson (he needs no introduction) and running back Wayne Gallman, who can take it the distance at any moment.
I remember being at the Georgia Dome in 2012 as a freshman. I was one of thousands in attendance when Auburn played Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, and that night, Clemson’s playmakers put on a show.
It was my first Auburn game ever and I watched in dismay as some guy named DeAndre Hopkins set a Clemson school record with 13 catches. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder had no answer for Andre Ellington either, who gashed Auburn’s defense for 231 yards on 25 carries. But that wasn’t even the worst part of the 26-19 loss. True story, this Clemson fan who was sitting behind me that kept spilling beer on my back by jumping out of his seat every time his team moved the chains. Clemson finished with 28 first downs and more than 500 yards of total offense. It was a long night.
Obviously, that can’t happen this year if Auburn wants to pull the upset. Carl Lawson and company have to get pressure on Watson or they’ll without a doubt be in danger of giving up similar numbers. What gives me hope is that Auburn’s defense is expected to be one of the best of the Malzahn era in 2016. Saturday night will the perfect opportunity to prove it.
Win or lose, this game is going to set the tone for Auburn’s season. And in a primetime game against the national runner-ups, I just want to see the team hold its own. By the game’s end, I want to have confidence that the offense can score when asked to, and that the defense can force opponents into mistakes. I don’t want to see another blowout. This team has too much talent, and Auburn suffered through enough of those last year.
Auburn’s biggest advantage is that this year’s matchup is going to be played in Jordan-Hare Stadium rather than a neutral site. Non-conference teams don’t simply waltz in there and come out with a win. Because of that, regardless of Clemson’s ranking, I think Auburn is in a position to give the No. 2 Tigers all they can handle Saturday night.
Oh, yeah…my name is C.J. Holmes by the way. I played three years of college basketball at Auburn and graduated back in May with a degree in sports-centric word writing. I’ll blog about Auburn sports, most often football. If you want to read more, which I hope you will, follow me on Twitter @_ceejay22au.