Auburn’s primetime matchup against Clemson Saturday has the potential to be very similar to the embarrassing loss at LSU last season, a loss that derailed Auburn’s season.
LSU jumped out to a 24-0 lead over its SEC rival thanks to early big plays from Leonard Fournette in a game that was basically over by halftime.
If Deshaun Watson steps onto the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium and lights up the state of the art scoreboard in the opening minutes there is a very real possibility Clemson will head home having all but wiped away distant memories of the program’s struggles on the Plains.
Auburn can’t afford to fall behind Saturday night thanks to a work-in-progress offense, which offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee openly admits has many “unknowns.”
Clemson’s defense already likes to make opposing offenses uncomfortable. With Auburn’s inexperience at key skill positions, defensive coordinator Brent Venables might ratchet up the attack.
“From their front, the way they pressure, the way they cover, they're in your face and they're not scared to get up and press and they're not scared to bring the safeties down tight,” Lashee said. “They're going to be aggressive and force the issue. Knowing that's their style, you know they're going to have a lot of confidence.”
The only way Auburn quarterback Sean White and the offense will have a chance to find their footing is if the defense puts together a memorable performance not seen on the Plains since the 2004 season.
“It's the first game and just coming off where we were last year so we're just trying to earn back everybody's respect,” Auburn defensive lineman Montravius Adams said.
The task at hand won’t be an easy one even for a defense that expects to be much improved.
Auburn defensive back Josh Holsey couldn’t pinpoint any weaknesses on Clemson’s offense during extensive film study sessions last month.
“Deshaun makes people better just because he’s Deshaun Watson right now,” Holsey said. “He’s playing at a very high level of football. They’ve got a very good offensive staff and offensive corps right now. It will be a good challenge for us in the first game to see how we respond to it.”
With coach Gus Malzahn calling the season-opener a “measuring stick” this week — a game that will help gauge the state of the program — it falls on the defenses shoulders to make sure Auburn stands shoulder to shoulder with Clemson and not in its longtime rival’s shadow.