Chick-fil-A Bowl Preview: Auburn vs. Clemson

Chick-fil-A Bowl
Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m. PST
Auburn (8-4) vs. Clemson (9-3)
Atlanta, Georgia
Payout: $2,900,000
Spread: Clemson – 2

Auburn is making a run at the 2008 SEC championship. It started with the hiring of Troy offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. The in-state hire comes after former OC Al Borges “resigned” at the end of the regular season. Franklin brings the popular spread offense to Auburn and the potential for a scary team next season. Since 2008 starts now, why not get a head start. Backup quarterback Kodi Burns, a true freshman, is a perfect fit for the new offense. Senior starter Brandon Cox has been a solid player for Auburn in his three years as a starter but has done nothing spectacular. Burns’ role has been limited to running the ball, with the exception of the Mississippi State game where he threw 12 passes in relief of Cox. Any experience he gains against a tough opponent in Clemson would give the entire team a leg up on next season. The passing game hasn’t been very effective and a move to the spread offense will give Clemson fits defensively.

When Clemson played Virginia Tech earlier this season, freshman Tyrod Taylor was at the helm for the Hokies. He ran for over 100 yards in that game guiding the Hokies to a 41-23 victory over Clemson. Burns gives Auburn a similar edge in athleticism at the quarterback position. With Clemson starting linebackers Nick Watkins and Tramaine Billie both ruled ineligible for this game, look for a confused and overmatched Clemson defense to struggle when Auburn employs its new spread look. Clemson’s third starting linebacker, Cortney Vincent, was arrested for drunk driving and his status is currently unknown.

The Auburn offense has enough talent at running back to shuttle them in and out of the lineup without much of a drop off to keep the pressure on Clemson while running the ball out of the spread look. Even if they don’t go fully into the new offense they should have plenty of success on the ground with Clemson’s woes at linebacker. Clemson’s secondary is a good one but the more success Auburn is able to have on the ground, the more they’ll get caught looking into the backfield. Whoever is in at quarterback for Auburn won’t have to complete a high percentage of passes, just enough to allow for some explosive plays to break the game open. Auburn’s defense won’t allow for this game to get into a shootout.

Clemson’s offense has the most impressive tandem of running backs in the country. Junior James Davis and sophomore CJ Spiller are too talented and too important to this team to be as invisible as they’ve been this season. The two backs will have to win this game for Clemson. Davis and Spiller moving the sticks will do wonders to open up the passing game for quarterback Cullen Harper. If Auburn doesn’t have to respect the two runners, Sen’Derrick Marks and a healthy Quentin Groves will tee off on the pass rush and Clemson has had difficulties protecting the quarterback this season. Harper has been sacked 29 times. The speed of Auburn’s defense will cause problems for Clemson but wide receiver Aaron Kelly, at 6’5, is a match-up nightmare. If Harper has enough time to find him they can win this game.

With a number of defensive players out for Clemson, it’s also an opportunity for them to build towards next season. Watkins and Billie were the only senior starters on the defense. Their replacements, most likely Scotty Cooper and Kavell Connor, need to use this time wisely. If the rest of the defense stays away from the NFL draft it will be a force in the ACC and maybe it’s the year Tommy Bowden finally wins the conference.

If Auburn has had enough time to school the team on the fundamentals of the spread offense there’s no doubt it will be very valuable against Clemson. If they try to force it into the game plan without sufficient preparation time, Clemson’s defense will force turnovers. This has the potential to be one of the best games of the entire bowl season. Auburn can’t afford to get behind if the offense struggles, but I think their defense will win this game.

Prediction:
Auburn 19 – Clemson 14

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