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Michael Niziolek: Auburn sees the team it wants to be when looking at Clemson

Auburn defensive lineman Maurice Swain tackles Jovon Robinson, No. 29, on A-Day at Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday, April 9, 2016.
Auburn defensive lineman Maurice Swain tackles Jovon Robinson, No. 29, on A-Day at Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday, April 9, 2016. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t turned his attention to game prep for the 2016 season just yet.

Malzahn is waiting until the summer to get into game planning for the early portion of the Tigers’ schedule, which includes a date against a Clemson team that’s sure to be one of the top-ranked teams in college football.

“We are pretty familiar with them anyway, with what they do offensive and what they do defensively. They are very talented,” Malzahn said.

Malzahn’s familiarity with Clemson means the coach doesn’t have to watch tons of tape to know Dabo Swinney’s squad is built similar to the 2013 Auburn team that made a national title run and the one it hopes to be in 2016.

During a Tiger Trek stop in Atlanta last week, Malzahn acknowledged the teams run similar offenses, but what he can’t say is that he’s envious of Auburn’s Week 1 opponent.

Clemson has one of the most dynamic offenses in the country with Deshaun Watson under center, a dual threat quarterback who took a secret visit to the Plains while verbally committed to Clemson. Watson finished third in the Heisman voting last year surpassing 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards with 47 total touchdowns.

Malzahn’s admiration for Watson’s skill set is easy to see.

“He’s special, he’s an elite player,“ Malzahn said. “He’s either one of the best or the best player in college football. I think everybody saw that in the national championship game.”

While Auburn’s middling offense struggled with tempo and getting down the field, Clemson averaged 38.5 points while running more than 80 plays a game. Auburn cracked the 80-play mark one time last season, but needed four overtimes to do it.

Auburn didn’t manage half the plays for 20 yards or more that Clemson did. Clemson ran 79 plays (47 passing, 32 rushing) for 20 yards or more to Auburn’s 39 (18 passing, 21 rushing).

Clemson wasn’t just a one-man show behind Watson either. Sophomore running back Wayne Gallman broke the school’s single-season rushing record with 1,527 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. It had a John Mackey Award finalist in tight end Jordan Leggett and All-ACC receiver Artavis Scott.

All four players will line up at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 3.

When Swinney talked about the similarities between Auburn and Clemson during the ACC coaches post-spring conference call, he didn’t say a disparaging word.

“We’re very familiar with a lot of the personnel at Auburn,” Swinney said Wednesday during the ACC coaches post-spring teleconference. “They’re a really talented football team, a really talented football team.”

Swinney isn’t going to be nothing but complimentary of Auburn’s offense, but make no mistake the teams are worlds apart talent wise and no amount of tape is going to show anything different.

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