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Key Matchup Tonight: AU “D” VS CU “O”


While there’s a lot of uncertainty on what to expect from Auburn’s offense and how Clemson will defend it Monday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, there’s no question that the strengths of both teams lie on the other side of the ball.

Auburn enters the game as the SEC’s top–ranked scoring defense and No. 8 in the nation in total defense. Clemson finished first in the ACC in scoring offense and second in total offense.

Todd Van Emst
Muschamp and AU’s defense must slow down a talented CU offense.

AU offensive coordinator Will Muschamp must design a scheme to slow down a balanced CU offense that features the running of James Davis and C.J. Spiller, the passing of Cullen Harper, and the receiving of Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham.

“They utilize their two playmakers — James Davis and C.J. Spiller are outstanding,” said Muschamp. Those guys are game-changers. They can take it the distance at any time.

“Cullen Harper has done an outstanding job at quarterback. He’s completing right at 68 percent of his passes. What they do in the throwing game is difficult because it’s the intermediate passing game. He’s very accurate.

“Aaron Kelly is a tough matchup outside. He’s a 6-5 kid who has great ball skills down the field. Tyler Grisham has done a great job in the slot.”

But it’s not what Muschamp has seen from Clemson on film that worries him the most. It’s the extra stuff that CU offensive coordinator Rob Spence has added to their attack that has Muschamp most concerned.

“They’re coordinator, Rob Spence, does an outstanding job of giving you multiple shifts, formations, and adjustments in the game,” said Muschamp. “You have to survive the first 12, 14, 16 snaps of the game as they’re working on the script of all the new things you’re going to see. What we’ve been practicing we’re probably not going to see. We’re going to see some different shifts, motions, personnel groupings.”

How quickly AU adjusts to those new schemes could be the key to the game.

“We’ve got to get honed in early as to what they’re giving us from an adjustment standpoint and do a great job from the press box to the sidelines of getting our kids in the right spots and right situations because they’re a very explosive attack,” said Muschamp.

While Muschamp gushes over the Clemson offense, Spence has similar praise for Auburn’s defense.

“Their strength is that front, and they are very, very athletic at end,” said Spence. “They’re very, very strong at the inside tackle position. Their three-technique is outstanding. Groves is a great outside rusher, and to control the four down linemen and then be able to also understand when they move from their different fronts how to protect and run the ball against those different fronts is going to present a big challenge to us in the game.

“Their secondary plays a lot of different variations of man coverage as well as zones, and they do an excellent job coordinating those coverages with their front.”

According to Spence, one of the best ways to attack AU’s defense is over the top.

“We’ll have to take advantage of that when given the opportunity,” he said. “People that have moved the ball on them have gotten some chuck plays and made big plays down the field on the perimeter, but they’re pretty good as defensive backs, especially at their corner positions. They’re athletic, and they do a nice job out there, but that’s obviously a place where you hope you get some chances during the game.”

It’s not just AU’s personnel that impress Spence.

“The first night I started looking at film of this great defense, I watched (Muschamp) run about 40 yards down field to congratulate one of the players on a great play,” said Spence. “I saw an intensity of emotion, a different level of enthusiasm than I’m accustomed to seeing, and that is reflected in that defense.

“His personality truly comes out loud and clear, and I think our players understand that’s a big part of the game.”

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