The Student News Site of Clemson University

The Tiger

The Tiger

The Tiger

Behind Enemy Bylines

In anticipation of this weekend’s matchup with Auburn, The Tiger went behind enemy bylines to talk to Sam Butler, the assistant sports editor of Auburn’s student newspaper, Auburn Plainsman, to get an opponent’s view on the game. 

Tiger Sports (TS): The Auburn Tigers endured an underwhelming 2015 season. Do you expect a return to elite form this year?

Sam Butler (SB): Underwhelming is one way to describe the 2015 season. Regardless, to go from preseason No. 6 to unranked and barely above .500 isn’t what Gus Malzahn and his Tigers had in mind for that season. A bunch of things went wrong, namely the play at quarterback. Will Muschamp left to pursue the head coaching job at South Carolina and took a handful of assistants with him, so Auburn’s taken a couple of steps backward. 

Nevertheless, they’re expecting to perform better this season. I don’t think they’ll hit anywhere close to the 12-1 season they had in 2013, but I’m thinking something around 8 wins would be ideal, maybe 9 if they pull out a win they weren’t supposed to. 

TS: With Jovon Robinson recently exiting the team, what is the outlook at the running back position for Auburn?

SB: Auburn’s leading rusher, Peyton Barber, left for the NFL after the bowl game. And while it was kind of a shock, he had Robinson and former “Mr. Football” in Alabama Roc Thomas behind him, not to mention another “Mr. Football” in Kerryon Johnson. The stable was full, so to speak. 

But Thomas transferred to Jacksonville State, and Robinson got booted, so that leaves Johnson to take the starter’s reins. He performed well last season as a true freshman, but it remains to be seen how he’ll handle being the workhorse. He’s said he’s up to the task, though. Behind him is Kamryn Pettway, a rhino of an H-back who started getting carries at tailback in the spring, and continued to do so. He’s 100 percent a downhill runner, and he’ll run you over without any hesitation. 

TS: Auburn has three quarterbacks who could all potentially serve as the starter early on in the season. What does each of them bring to the table?

SB: The three-man race was between Sean White, Jeremy Johnson, and John Franklin III. White and Franklin are your more prototypical pocket passers — although both of them have some pretty serious straight-line speed — and Franklin is as dual-threat as they come. You’ve probably seen him on Netflix’s Last Chance U. 

White won the job last Thursday, though. He performed fairly well after taking over for Johnson in 2015, but he suffered a knee injury against Arkansas that hampered him significantly, and kept him out for the last four games of the regular season. He’s a pretty accurate passer, and while he’s not going to win you any games by himself, he manages it well enough to where he won’t lose you any, either.

TS: Can Auburn compete for the SEC title this season?

SB: Well, I hesitate to say ‘No’ without a second thought because Auburn is known to show whatever the opposite of consistency is. They went from going winless in conference play in 2012 to being 13 seconds from a title the next year, to middle-of-the-road in 2014, to not-so-great in 2015. 

Theoretically, Auburn shouldn’t sniff the conference championship this year, not with Alabama, LSU and potentially Ole Miss standing in front of them. But stranger things have happened.

TS: What will occur on September 3rd when the Clemson Tigers battle the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium?

SB: I’m pretty sure I can count on two things happening: 1) the Auburn home crowd will be jacked up and ready to explode if anything close to a win materializes, and 2) Deshaun Watson isn’t going to let that happen. 

I just don’t see the Auburn defense — even though Carl Lawson and the rest of his defensive line mates will be formidable — being able to slow down what, in my opinion, is the best offense in college football led by the greatest player in college football. 

The home field will help, and maybe Auburn will get some of that Kick Six magic juju, but I doubt it.

TS: Score prediction?

SB: I’m saying something like 41-17, Clemson. Watson’s too good, and there’s too much uncertainty for Auburn to do anything that will put a scare in to Clemson. Daniel Carlson might kick a 70-yard field goal or something, though

SB: Clemson’s coming off of an incredible season, and they were a couple bounces of the ball away from beating Alabama for the national championship. What’s the expectation for the Tigers this year? Can they get over that hump?

TS: Expectations are definitely high in Clemson heading into the 2016 season. It does have sort of a national championship or bust feel to it, as the Tigers boast what is arguably the most talented roster in the nation. Therefore, they definitely have what it takes to “get over the hump,” but the college football season comes with many twists and turns. Expect the Clemson Tigers’ 2016 philosophy to be to take it one game at a time.

SB: The Clemson offense probably didn’t get any worse compared to last year. In fact, they’re probably better, with the readdition of Mike Williams. Do you think Deshaun Watson and Co. will have any letdowns compared to the high-octane scoring they churned out last year?

TS: Barring a significant injury, Clemson’s 2016 offense could be one of the best that college football has ever seen. With Mike Williams and Artavis Scott forming an electrifying duo in the starting lineup at wide receiver and several other highly talented wideouts, such as Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow, on the roster, Clemson is rife with talent. Redshirt junior running back Wayne Gallman is poised to have another outstanding season, and, needless to say, quarterback Deshaun Watson should make a run at the Heisman Trophy once again. There is no sign of an offensive letdown on the horizon.

SB: Clemson’s defense is probably the biggest question mark for the Tigers, since so many starters departed for the NFL. What’s the outlook there? Will they be able to hold up opposing offenses enough to Watson to outscore everyone?

TS: Despite losing several starters to the NFL, Clemson’s defense is poised to be even better this season than it was last season. True freshman pass rusher Dexter Lawrence will quickly establish himself as an imposing force, and proven senior Ben Boulware will lead the linebacker unit. There are some major question marks involving the inexperienced secondary, but Clemson’s defense should have no problem holding its own against opposing offenses.

SB: Auburn and Clemson have a somewhat decent cross-conference “rivalry”, in that they’ve played each other pretty often, the last one coming in 2012. Is there any chance Dabo Swinney would let his guys look past an Auburn team that suffered mightily from disappointment in 2015, and is figuring out a ton of question marks heading into the 2016 season?

TS: There is no chance of that happening. Coach Swinney still rues the sickening 2012 loss to Cam Newton’s Auburn squad, and he has assuredly spent the entire offseason preparing his team for this game. The Tigers are national championship contenders, so getting off to a good start is very important. Expect Clemson to be fully invested in this opening game.

SB: How will the latest installment in the Auburn-Clemson series shake out?

TS: Since this is a mini-rivalry, it should be a contested game from the start. Expect Clemson’s offensive firepower to prove to be too much for Auburn’s defense handle by halftime. Auburn has too many question marks on offense, specifically at the quarterback spot, and will not be able to hang with Clemson. Expect the Clemson Tigers to win in runaway fashion.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Tiger

Your donation will support the student journalists of Clemson University . Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Tiger

Comments (0)

All The Tiger Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *