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Core matchup? AU Running Backs Vs Clem Linebackers

Source: RealFootball365

Although it all starts in the trenches, it’s the skill positions that finish the game in football. And Clemson and Auburn have plenty of skill players on both sides of the ball who are good enough to help their teams win the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl. With that, we turn to the running game, zeroing in on the backs versus the linebackers.
Clemson linebackers:

Don’t let the lack of first-team All-ACC players fool you; Clemson’s defense, ranked sixth in the nation, is very sturdy. And the team’s experience-laden linebacker squad is a huge key to its success.

First, you’re looking at senior Nick Watkins, who leads the team in tackles with 61 solos and 39 assists. His solo tackle number is fourth in the ACC, and he averages over eight takedowns a game. He’s a menace near the line and in the flats.

Tremaine Billie, another senior, has logged 45 solos and 24 assists while junior Cortney Vincent totaled 31 and 23. While their numbers aren’t like Watkins’, they certainly are integral. Billie, who has amassed five quarterback hurries and one pass defensed, is the leader of the trio, while Vincent has that NFL size and quickness and has two QB hurries and two passes broken up to his credit. These two are just as much a threat as Watkins on the field.

There is some quality depth to the position as junior Antonio Clay, who played a lot last year after Billie and former Tiger Anthony Waters went down early with season-ending injuries, brings with him the experience needed to make for a very good rotation. Sophomore Kavell Conner and freshman Scotty Cooper also have played quite a bit this year, receiving that precious game-day experience in just about every week this season.

Linebackers coach Ron West has done quite a job of developing reliable talent and depth at this position. And this group of solid performers will only reinforce the already tough defensive front as well as alleviate the pressure from Clemson’s secondary.

How Clemson’s linebackers can stop Auburn’s running game

Auburn appears to have a running back tandem similar to Clemson’s, and Tommy Tuberville loves to run the ball so much that their main depth chart reflects a Power-I formation. Sophomore tailback Ben Tate leads all rushers with 4.6 yards a carry on 188 touches this year and seven touchdowns. His backup, junior Brad Lester, averages 4.3 yards per touch and has added three scores. In front of them is 230-pound fullback Carl Stewart, who is a short-yardage grinder with two TDs. Clearly, Clemson’s front seven will have its work cut out for it against the Tigers’ triple-threat backfield.

With Auburn’s O-line struggling a bit this year, all the linebackers should do is simply plug the holes because Clemson’s D-line will most likely tie them up all day. But the linebackers will need to stiffen up when Auburn gets into short-yardage situation because it’s a toss-up as to who gets the rock, Stewart or one of his tailbacks. All three are proven runners in their own right, which makes it a bit difficult. Vincent’s size should be able to counter Stewart’s, so that will be a clash worth watching. Watkins and Billie have the speed to close in on the other two, so it’s well within the realm of possibility the Auburn running game is stoppable.

Auburn running backs:

Auburn is a team known for its outstanding running backs. Consider that Joe Cribbs, Bo Jackson, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, Ronnie Brown, Kenny Irons, William Andrews, Rudi Johnson, James Brooks and Stephen Davis were all Tigers.

But this season, for the first time in a while, there were no huge stars at running back for the Tigers. First, Lester, the person many thought would be the go-to back in 2007, missed the first five games because of a suspension. Then, the offensive line had a lot of trouble from the beginning of the season, and it was forced to start three freshmen.

And that’s not even counting the fact that Tate (sophomore) and Mario Fannin (freshman)– two of the major contributors rushing the ball this season — are both young.

Nevertheless, when you put the running back stats together, they’re not bad. Tate, a steady back with good vision, rushed 188 times for 856 yards and seven touchdowns during the season. Fannin, a big-time home-run threat, took the rock 81 times for 430 yards and five scores. Lester, a guy who is very quick and runs with surprising power for his size, carried the ball 111 times for 473 yards and three TDs. If recent trends mean anything, however, Clemson will get a healthy dose of Tate and Lester over Fannin.

Then again, with the resignation of Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges, who knows? His replacement, former Troy coordinator Tony Franklin, will be bringing the spread offense to Auburn, and that may mean some more time for a guy with the ability to scoot around in the open field (Fannin).

How Auburn’s running backs can beat Clemson’s linebackers

Without question, Clemson has some good linebackers. That said, Auburn’s backs are talented and have played against SEC fronts all season. Further, Tate and Lester combined for 175 yards rushing against Alabama in their final game of the season, so they’re feeling good about themselves coming into this contest.

In the end, though, this battle really doesn’t have a lot to do with the backs or linebackers. If Auburn’s running backs are able to get to the linebacker level unabated, they’re athletic enough to win some of the battles. Lester in particular has the quickness to bolt past linebackers if they’re not right on top of him. Further, if Auburn’s running backs are able to get past the linebacker level because offensive linemen are getting their hats on the LBs, they’ll win.

So this one will be all about the offensive line. Auburn’s young O-line simply has to keep improving and playing well. Of course, if Franklin is able to keep Clemson off balance with solid play-calling, that will help.

Because of the coaching change, this is going to be a very interesting matchup. Auburn’s offensive line could put its running backs in a difficult position. Then again, you never know.

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