Auburn To Try To Match Clemson's Offense In Chick-fil-A Bowl

This season, Auburn was like Clemson without the offense

Dec. 30, 2007

ATLANTA (AP) - Four years ago, Cullen Harper had difficulty choosing between the Tigers of the ACC and the Tigers of the SEC.

"They're very similar schools," said Harper. "Everybody says Auburn is like Clemson without the lake."

This season, Auburn was like Clemson without the offense.

At the same time, Harper was throwing a school-record 27 touchdown passes and helping No. 15 Clemson lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring.

Going into Monday night's Chick-fil-A bowl, Clemson and Auburn rank among the nation's top 10 defenses in points allowed.

However, Auburn (8-4) ranked 101st in the nation in total offense this season.

In an attempt to remedy that situation, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville hired a new offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin, who began installing a no-huddle spread attack in bowl practice.

With so little time to learn the new scheme, No. 22 Auburn faces a challenge in keeping pace with Clemson.

Clemson (9-3), which closed the regular season with wins in five of its last six games, will try for its first 10-win season since 1990.

Tommy Bowden says his Clemson team "turned a corner" and moved closer to championship contention this season. Clemson hopes the bowl game provides momentum for bigger success in 2008.

"This game means a lot to us," said Clemson linebacker Phillip Merling. "It could catapult us right to the national championship next year."

Unless Harper or other top juniors enter the NFL draft, 20 of Clemson's top 22 defensive players are expected back along with its top six rushers and top eight receivers.

Harper completed 67 percent of his passes while throwing only six interceptions in his first year as a starter.

Harper's father, Jeff Harper, was a starting offensive lineman on Georgia's 1980 national championship team. The younger Harper attended a passing camp at Auburn before his senior year in high school. Harper says he had an invitation for a return recruiting visit to Auburn but instead was won over by Clemson.



Harper's big season in his first year as a starter was a surprise to many.

"His consistency, his composure, his field presence and his command of respect from the team were things you just didn't know about because he hadn't played," Bowden said. "Those things just kind of jumped out at you because he did it for 12 games."

Running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller combined for 1,648 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Receiver Aaron Kelly had 84 catches for 1,045 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The game could prove to be a perfect 2008 warmup for Clemson. Alabama and Clemson officials are in negotiations for a 2008 season-opener in the Georgia Dome on Aug. 30, similar to Alabama's neutral-site game against Florida State in Jacksonville this season.

Clemson, which closed its regular season with a win over South Carolina, would face three straight Southeastern Conference teams if the deal with Alabama is completed.

Auburn hasn't had the luxury of thinking about momentum for 2008. Tuberville's staff has had enough to worry about with the mad rush to devise an offensive game plan which includes a mix of the old system and Franklin's new scheme.

There is potential for confusion, but if nothing else Franklin has introduced the idea of a faster tempo on offense.

"It's such a great head start going into the spring," Franklin said.

Freshman quarterback Kodi Burns, who Franklin says has a good future in the new offense, could share time with senior Brandon Cox.

Clemson will have no seniors as starters or top backups on defense.

Senior outside linebackers Nick Watkins and Tramaine Billie were declared academically ineligible earlier this month. Watkins led the team with 118 tackles. Billie was third with 79.

Another senior starter, offensive tackle Christian Capote, also was declared ineligible.

The loss of Capote leaves a freshman, Chris Hairston, to make his first start against defensive end Quentin Groves, who is tied for Auburn's career lead with 26 sacks.

"I respect every guy I play against and I wouldn't say my eyes are lighting up," Groves said. "I just go with the same mind-set every game to play as hard as I can, as fast as I can for as long as I can."

Groves says Clemson's assortment of big-play options is imposing.

"You can't just key on one guy and say 'OK, that's how we're going to stop this offense,"' he said.

"It's a great offensive team. You don't put up points like they have if you don't have a great offensive team."

Auburn and Clemson will play for the first time since Auburn beat Clemson 21-17 in what was then called the Peach Bowl in Atlanta following the 1997 season.