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September 18, 2010Game Ticker
Following a positive start to SEC play as it tries to re-emerge as a league power, Auburn attempts to reassert its dominance in an old non-conference rivalry.
The 16th-ranked Tigers haven't faced Clemson in the regular season in nearly 40 years, but they've won 13 straight in the series entering Saturday night's clash at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
After going 5-11 in SEC games over the last two seasons, Auburn (2-0) has reason for optimism in 2010 largely because of quarterback Cameron Newton.
The junior college transfer has accounted for 322 passing yards, 241 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in his first two games, leading victories over Arkansas State and Mississippi State.
Newton, though, credited Auburn's defense for preserving last Thursday's 17-14 road win in the team's SEC opener. He threw two touchdown passes in the first half, but Auburn didn't score after halftime as its defense came up with several big stops.
"We started off on fire," Newton said. "But we put our defense in some binds, I'm not going to lie. It's just a sign of a good team - our defense stepped up and did what they had to do."
Tackle Nick Fairley had 1.5 sacks for the second straight week to go with an interception and a fumble recovery, earning SEC defensive player of the week honors.
"He obviously will demand a lot of attention, but they're all pretty active over there," Clemson center Dalton Freeman said. "They all play with great skill and will be the most athletic team we've faced so far."
Auburn has held its two opponents without a third-down conversion in seven tries during the fourth quarter. Mississippi State had trouble passing the ball against the Tigers, going 16 of 35 for 129 yards.
"They were relentless down to the last snap," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said of his defense. "So I was proud to see that."
Chizik started his collegiate coaching career as a graduate assistant at Clemson in 1988. The two teams of Tigers also have a lengthy history of on-field encounters, squaring off 46 times.
Although this will be the first regular-season meeting since 1971 - with another game on tap for next year at Clemson - Auburn has extended its winning streak against Clemson with two recent bowl victories, including a 23-20 overtime win in the 2007 Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Clemson (2-0) hasn't beaten Auburn since 1951, but it has reached a bowl game 12 times in the last 14 seasons and could be headed for another after starting the season with comfortable wins over North Texas and Presbyterian.
But coach Dabo Swinney knows Saturday's game will be a different experience for his team. Swinney was part of 13 games against Auburn as a player and assistant coach at Alabama from 1990-2001.
"I've been there many times," Swinney said. "It's hard to go to Auburn and win. If we're gonna be a good team, you've got to be able to go on the road and win in tough environments.
"This is our first opportunity to be tested in that regard, and it's a great opportunity for us."
Clemson has taken advantage of two overmatched opponents, totaling 93 points in its victories.
As the team looks to replace first-round NFL draft pick C.J. Spiller, four different running backs have at least 11 carries. Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper, however, may shoulder the load against Auburn after combining for 224 yards in a 35-10 win over North Texas on Sept. 4.
Sophomore quarterback Kyle Parker also has been sharp for Clemson, throwing for 284 yards and four touchdowns in limited action.
Parker already has experience leading a road win over a ranked foe, throwing for 326 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-37 overtime victory at then-No. 8 Miami on Oct. 24.
Clemson, which was receiving votes in this week's poll, should move into the Top 25 with an upset victory.