By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - By the time Gus Malzahn finished the last bite of his celebratory postgame meal Saturday night, he had already turned his attention to Auburn’s next challenge.
“When you’re playing a solid team, you want to win, and you want to have a chance to win convincingly and play some younger guys, and we were able to do that,” Malzahn said of Auburn’s 41-7 victory over Georgia Southern in which 11 freshmen played.
“You put it in your rearview mirror and then you move on to the next one, and it just so happens to be Clemson,” Malzahn said.
In the 2016 season opener, Auburn held Clemson to its fewest points of the year in Clemson’s 19-13 victory.
“It was a tough loss last year and we’ve got a lot of guys back and they happen to be the defending national champs, and we’re going to their home field,” Malzahn said. “That’s the only thing on our mind. Nothing about last week. Everything moving forward is Clemson and that’s really about it.”
Auburn, No. 13, plays No. 3 Clemson at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN at Memorial Stadium.
“It will really be a good measuring stick of where we are at from a team standpoint, and that’s my message to the team,” Malzahn said.
Auburn’s defense dazzled in its first outing, holding Georgia Southern to 78 yards and stopping the Eagles on all 15 third-down plays.
“They played extremely hard, which is what stood out to me, outstanding effort,” Malzan said. “They were physical and played with great effort. That’s what we will have to do this week. We are playing one of the best offenses in college football right now. We are going to have to be very physical and we are going to have to play our guts out.”
In Clemson’s 56-3 season opening win over Kent State, the Tigers recorded five sacks, one fewer than Auburn notched against Georgia Southern.
“Their defensive front, I believe it’s one of the top in the country and when you turn on the film, it doesn’t take long to figure that out,” Malzahn said. “It’ll be a big test for our guys up front. We’re not only going to have to run the football, but we’ll have to protect the quarterback, so that’ll be a big key to the game.”
“I thought they did some good things,” Malzahn said. “We were able to run the football effectively. One of the pass protection issues where we got hit was more of a miscommunication than anything. It is a new group working together beside each other. It more than anything just confirmed that we have a chance to be really good up front.”
More from Malzahn:
On Kamryn Pettway….“He is ready. He repped all fall camp and all last week. He’ll be fresh and in good shape.”
On Tucker Brown…...“Tucker did a solid job. He had a couple intimidation blocks. He is a guy who played in the bowl game last year and I thought he played pretty well then. Coach Larry Porter is impressed with him. He and Jalen Harris both get opportunities to play at that tight end position.”
On first-time OL starters Wanogho and Horton…...“I thought Mike Horton did a solid job. Mike is a physical guy. Of course he got a chance to play quite a bit last year. This is Prince Tega’s first real action, and I think he really played well and did a good job. He just needs experience, too. You’re talking about a guy who has only been playing football for a short period of time anyway, and the fact that it was his first start and everything that goes with it. He is very talented and I thought he played well.”
On Ryan Davis…. He’s explosive when he has the ball in his hands. He’s very confident. He’s one of the veteran guys. It’s his third year to play, so our expectations are real high for him. Darius Slayton is another guy that is a little bit older. Those two guys need to lead the charge as far as the receiver group.” On Kyle Davis…. “Kyle Davis will be in the game plan and he’ll play a lot. He’s got a lot of big play ability. I think we saw that last year as a true freshman and I think he’s improved from last year. We’re excited to have him out there.”
On Jarrett Stidham’s preparation for Clemson……“We need to build around his strengths and what he feels comfortable with. That’s a big part of the game plan. There is nothing like going out there. You’ve just got to do it. He’s been on the road, I believe, a couple of games he played in, and this will be one the best environments there is, so it will be good for the future. Dealing with the crowd noise and dealing with the communication and everything that goes with it, I think it will be real good for him. Like I said at the very first, I think it’s good for our team. This game will really show where we’re at right now and be a good measuring stick, so I think it’s good for all of them.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer
Ticket InformationA limited number of single-game tickets ($35) and Family Pack Tickets ($25) remain for the ULM game on Nov. 18. To purchase visit AUBTIX.com.