Auburn has won 14 straight meetings in the head-to-head series with Clemson, including a 27-24 overtime victory at home last season. Each of the last two meetings between these teams has gone to overtime and been decided on the final play of the game.
Auburn has notched 17 consecutive victories against FBS opponents, currently the longest streak in the nation. It is also tied for the second-longest in team history and the program's longest since 1993-94. Last week, the Tigers improved to 2-0 with a 41-34 win over 16th-ranked Mississippi State in their SEC opener. A week earlier, they erased a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Utah State.
"I think that we are still trying to figure out really as a whole what the identity of our team is, and I think that as the season unfolds you figure it out game by game," head coach Gene Chizik said after last week's victory. "I think these two games certainly took it down to a place where we know that they will fight. They are a young team. They want to be good. Are we a great football team right now? No. Not even close. But the identity of the team is starting to form week by week because they will fight."
Clemson is also off to a 2-0 start after wins over Troy (43-19) and Wofford (35-27). However, the schedule now toughens up quite a bit as this will be the first of three straight games against a ranked opponent. The Tigers host No. 5 Florida State next week before hitting the road to face No. 13 Virginia Tech a week later.
Auburn has scored 30 points or more in 18 of 29 games so far in the Gene Chizik era, and that includes 40 or more in nine of the last 16 games. The key for the Tigers is building an early lead, as they are 17-2 when leading at halftime under Chizik, including 11 straight wins. Sophomore running back Michael Dyer is off to a strong start, averaging 103.5 rushing yards through two contests. Dating back to last season, junior wideout Emory Blake has caught at least one touchdown pass in five straight games, the longest streak by an AU player since 1980. In the Tigers' first two games he has caught 10 passes for 203 yards.
Junior quarterback Barrett Trotter is fourth in the SEC in passing efficiency (177.58), having completed 33-of-46 passes (72 percent) with five touchdowns and one interception in the early going. Against Mississippi State, he completed 16-of-23 passes for 146 yards and two scores, one of which went to Blake, who finished with 108 yards on seven catches.
While Auburn's defense did bend a bit last week, it did not break. Backup safety Ryan Smith came up with a game-saving tackle on the final play, stopping 240-pound quarterback Chris Relf at the goal line to preserve the victory. It was only the fourth career tackle for the sophomore Smith, but it could not have come at a bigger moment. Prior to that moment, however, the defense had all kinds of trouble stopping the Bulldogs. Auburn's defense was on the field for 97 plays and gave up 531 total yards and 31 first downs before the final stand. A week earlier, the Tigers allowed Utah State to rack up 27 first downs, 448 yards and four touchdowns on their home turf, in addition to a commanding time-of-possession edge of more than 15 minutes.
So far, the offense has answered questions about how it will score without Heisman quarterback Cam Newton at the helm. But defensively, the Tigers appear to sorely miss the presence of Lombardi Trophy winner Nick Fairley on the line. Coach Chizik acknowledged his team still has plenty of work to do, although they'll take a win any way they can get it.
"We prefer to win football games a lot differently than we are, but I am going to tell you, there is something to be said for knowing that you can fight down to the end when it doesn't look good and still be able to win a game," Chizik said. "Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how you do it. It just matters that you do it."
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has a solid 169.3 efficiency rating after two games, as he has completed 38-of-59 passes (.644) for 525 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. He also led the Tigers on the game-clinching touchdown drive late in Saturday's game against Wofford, keyed by a big completion 3rd-and-13 with his team leading by one.
"That was a critical throw in a clutch situation," offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. "We had to have it or we were going to have to punt the ball back to them."
While the redshirt sophomore has handled his first two starts rather well, the obvious caveat is that they have come against a pair of FCS defenses. And even then, it hasn't been all smooth sailing. One concern is the amount of hits Boyd has taken, having been sacked seven times already. With the schedule now getting considerably tougher beginning this week, the offensive line will need to tighten things up, and Boyd will need to execute his reads.
Meanwhile, the ground game has been effective behind Andre Ellington, who is averaging 127 rushing yards after two contests. Freshman wideout Sammy Watkins has emerged as a favorite target of Boyd's having caught 11 passes for 137 yards and two scores.
If anything, Clemson's defensive staff came away from last Saturday's contest with plenty of teaching points for the young squad. After all, Wofford scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions and led the entire first half. Specifically, the Tigers had lots of trouble with Wofford's ground game, which churned out 272 yards and two TDs for the game. However, Clemson was able to make some halftime adjustments and held the Terriers out of the end zone in the second half.
In addition to their run defense, one area that warrants some improvement is the pass rush, as the Tigers have generated only one sack through two games. Against Auburn's high-octane offense, they can ill-afford to let Trotter sit comfortably in the pocket and dial up big plays. Defensive end Andre Branch can help in that department. He currently leads the team with 17 tackles, although only one of those stops have come behind the line of scrimmage.