There aren’t any new storylines or big question marks facing this year’s Clemson team. Head coach Dabo Swinney's Tigers are really good – they know it and so does everybody else. Naturally, everything starts with Heisman-favorite quarterback Deshaun Watson. No need to feed you Watson’s ridiculous 2015 stats or explain what makes him so dominant. We’ve all seen him play and know he is seriously something special.
What is worth talking about is the insane arsenal of weapons surrounding Watson on Clemson’s offense. First, in the backfield, there is running back Wayne Gallman, who toted the rock nearly 300 times for over 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2015.
Then, on the outside, Watson has what many are calling the best group of pass catchers in the country. Last year’s leading receiver Artavis Scott returns, as does stud tight end Jordan Leggett, who led the Tigers in touchdown catches. Then there’s Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow, Ray-Ray McCloud… I could go on and on. If that’s not enough to keep Auburn’s defense up at night, Mike Williams – Clemson’s 1,000-plus-yard receiver from 2014 – is back after missing basically all of last season when he broke a bone in his neck on the first drive of the year. Even Clemson’s kicker, Greg Huegel, gets buckets – connecting on more field goals than any kicker in the country in 2015.
Auburn will look to sophomore quarterback Sean White to try and keep up with the Clemson offense. White won the starting job over senior Jeremy Johnson and junior college transfer John Franklin III.
As a redshirt freshman in 2015, White wasn’t expected to be a big part of the SEC Tigers’ offense. Johnson was preseason second-team all-SEC and even a Heisman dark horse, but was benched three games into the season. White took the reins and showed the ability to help sustain drives, but struggled to covert those drives into touchdowns. His first, and only, touchdown pass didn’t come until his fifth start, against Ole Miss.
Auburn is without its top three rushers from a season ago. Peyton Barber left early for the NFL Draft, Jovon Robinson was dismissed from the team earlier this month, and Roc Thomas transferred to Jacksonville State. That means sophomore Kerryon Johnson will start at running back behind a strong offensive line. The void at receiver may prove more difficult to fill. Last year’s leading pass catcher Ricardo Louis is gone, leaving the SEC Tigers without a single receiver who surpassed 300 yards in 2015.
A big advantage for Auburn will be the guarantee of a raucous crowd inside Jordan-Hare Stadium – a place that has provided some of the craziest games in recent memory. Swinney says his guys are excited for the chance to play in such an electric environment.
“We recognize fully how difficult it is win there. You are down a touchdown when you get off the bus,” Swinney said. “It is one of the best game day environments in all of college football. They have a great fan base. It is a beautiful environment down there, and we look forward to it.”
If Auburn wants a shot at the upset, it will need to weather the storm early and put some points on the board. A turnover or two and a couple deep strikes from Clemson could take the air out of Jordan-Hare in a hurry.