AUBURN - It's no ordinary opener that No. 25 Auburn faces on Saturday against No. 14 Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik says Tigers 'are in a good place'
It's a big game, the kind that can have an impact that will be felt for weeks to come. Five days out, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Tuesday he expects his team to be ready for an all-out effort.
"We are in a good place," Chizik said. "We are really looking forward to it. It's a great challenge. It's a big opportunity to really see where we stand as a football team. In my four years, we haven't opened with a team like Clemson. I think it's going to be a great measuring stick for us."
It's the third consecutive season the two teams of Tigers have met. Auburn won 27-24 in overtime en route to the national championship in 2010. Clemson won 38-24 at home last season en route to winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
"In 2010 it was an eye-opening game for us," Chizik said. "We were able to win it, but I felt like we got physically beat on the line of scrimmage. That's something I think catapulted us into what it was going to take to really win that year. For them, the game got away from us in the fourth quarter. They really played well down the stretch of that game. That kind of catapulted them to a win against Florida State the next week.
"This year it will be very interesting. The next week we have to play a tough SEC West game (against Mississippi State). This is going to be a great indicator to us where we stand. Whether that dictates how your season unfolds or not, you don't know that until December."
Chizik addressed numerous other questions - the suspension of center Reese Dismukes, the newly released depth chart, first-time starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier and dealing with Clemson's high-tempo offense.
The arrest and suspension of center Dismukes made the kind of headlines Chizik did not want to see. How does he keep it from becoming a distraction?
"That's part of the job as a coach. Our job is to win games on the field. We know that. But our job is also to help young, immature guys grow up and become men. One of the things we've done in the past and will continue to do is we always have to stay focused on all the things that matter in terms of preparing for football games during the season. You can let outside things distract you as a team and as a coaching staff, but over the years we've been pretty steadfast in our movement toward staying focused and preparing. We'll do the same here.
"Obviously, my main concern when you have events off the field that aren't very flattering to your program is to get help for young guys - that's our job - and to try to grow them up. That's what we will continue to do."
Off-field incidents that result in discipline can paint a negative picture of the program as a whole. How does Chizik deal with that?
"The majority of our kids make great decisions. It's been disappointing with a couple of decisions that have been made out there that obviously don't paint a very flattering picture. It's very bothersome in what you try to get accomplished with your players off the field in terms of doing the right things. But I'll say again the majority of our kids do a great job with that. I appreciate that. When they don't, we'll address it, try to help them and, obviously, try to help them grow up."
The depth chart released Tuesday had some surprises, particularly among the backups. Chizik addressed some of those, along with the decision to start sophomore Angelo Blackson at defensive tackle.
On Blackson: "Angelo is really one of those young guys that is still in somewhat of an inconsistent stage. If you look at our two-deep on our defensive line, there aren't very many spots you can say 'This guy is the true starter.' Angelo is kind of in that role. You still have some guys behind them that are really going to start. It's that way all over our defensive line. We have to name the starter, but it doesn't mean he's head and tails ahead of the next guy."
On Jermaine Whitehead and Ryan Smith starting at safety and Erique Florence not being listed: "There are a lot of communication issues that have to go on back there with this defense, particularly starting at safety. Jermaine is a smart player. He's a 200-pound kid. We moved him back there in the spring to challenge for a job. Once he started understanding it, he really improved every day."
On Ryan White starting at cornerback ahead of T'Sharvan Bell and Robenson Therezie: "We said going in all bets are off. If you are the guy and you produce and you are the one that understands the defense and you are being productive in practice, you have a chance to win a job. He just went in there and won a job. That doesn't mean in our mind that T'Sharvan Bell and some of these guys are backups. You are going to see a lot of nickel and see a lot of rotations in there. With those guys, there is some play in there where we kind of consider some other guys starters, too. But Ryan won the job. It's that simple."
On Therezie and running back Corey Grant not being in the two-deep: "Corey is still battling some injury issues. Robenson is definitely going to be on the trip. Corey, we are going to play day by day and see where he is health-wise. We'll know more today and tomorrow."
Clemson, which runs an almost identical offense to the one Gus Malzahn ran at Auburn the past three seasons, will be without star receiver Sammie Watkins. What will be the impact will his absence and Auburn's familiarity with the defense?
"Us being in a similar offense for three years, we have a good idea of this: This is an offense that is very explosive. Its big-play potential and big-play capabilities are the No. 1 things you have to defend against when you go into these games. Specifically related to Clemson you are looking at that type of offense with a lot of guys in key places that can make that happen. Sammy Watkins apparently is not playing. I promise you they have a lot of other players who have capabilities to make explosive plays."
Auburn sophomore Kiehl Frazier will make his first start at quarterback. Is he ready to be the main man on the big stage?
"It will be very interesting to see him perform. He did get enough experience last year that when he walk onto the field it won't be the first time. Kiehl is a very, very talented athlete. He's worked very hard to get to this position. Our standard doesn't come down and we say 'Hey, look we know it's your first start. No. We expect a lot out of that position. He understands that.
"We are excited to watch him play. I think our players have a lot of confidence in him. We as coaches have a lot of confidence in him. It will be a really neat thing to watch the ebb and flow of the game go with him and how he responds to potentially negative dynamics out there. I'm really excited to watch him play."