Nearly 1 year ago, I wrote an article titled “Beating Auburn would start erasing doubts about Dabo Swinney and Clemson Football.” Clemson won that game 38-24 in a game where Sammy Watkins said hello to the nation with 10 receptions for 155 yards and 2 TDS. The Tigers went on to defeat Florida State and Virginia Tech in the following weeks, and sprinted to an 8-0 start. There where whispers of playing for a national title, but also whispers of when Clemson was going to pull a “Clemson”.
You know it the inevitable game or two Clemson has every season where they inexplicably play terrible against a team they are favored to beat. Some feel that game was against Georgia Tech in a 31-17 loss in Atlanta. I don’t think so as Georgia Tech played nearly a perfect game to beat the Tigers.
I felt it was a 37-13 shellacking in Raleigh to the NC State Wolfpack. Honestly it wasn’t that close either. There was no shame in losing to a pretty good Wolfpack team, but Clemson well they pulled a Clemson. The Tigers barely competed. After that there was a 34-13 loss to in-state rival South Carolina. The Tigers managed to play very well and beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship, but then the bottom fell out in humiliating fashion. A 70-33 blowout, pounding, destruction whatever you call it at the hands of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl. I know a lot of Clemson fans who’ve complained let’s stop talking about the Orange Bowl. I disagree that game should be tattooed on the brain of every Clemson from QB Tajh Boyd to the water boy. It was an embarrassment of epic proportions. Clemson has recovered to get verbal commitments from some of the best players in the country for 2012 including the consensus #1 player in the nation DE Robert Nkemdiche.
Yes that’s great. That’s wonderful, but at the end of the day it’s the battles won in the fall not February that people remember. 2011 was a nice season with some big highlights, but the finish left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. The good thing is as early as September 1st Clemson can put those memories to rest against the Auburn Tigers in a prime time Saturday matchup. Beating anyone from the SEC not from the state of Mississippi will earn a measure a respect and credibility. That’s Clemson’s and Dabo Swinny’s task and again its with the Auburn Tigers like last year.
Sammy Watkins won’t be available for the game due to his suspension so the Tigers will lean heavily on their other offensive stars QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington, and WR De’Andre Hopkins. The offensive line is inexperienced outside of Dalton Freeman and Brandon Thomas and that could be an issue. They will face an Auburn team without RB Michael Dyer and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Those Tigers want to prove some things too. They want to prove that the Cam Newton 2010 national title year wasn’t a one year wonder. They’ll have plenty of motivation as well.
Last year Clemson had to beat Auburn at home to show the college football world Clemson was force. They did and they were. Now Clemson faces Auburn again as the opportunity to put the Orange Bowl behind them and let everyone know that even if 2011 had some bumps the Clemson Tigers are truly a program on the rise. By the way I’ll be at the game to see if Clemson can do it.