Auburn, Ala.--Auburn assistant coach Tommy Thigpen, who has been a visiting player and coach at Clemson, predicts a young Auburn football team will face a major test on Saturday at Memorial Stadium where the visiting Tigers have not played a game since 1970.
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. CDT Saturday at the 81,500-seat stadium that Thigpen says will provide a familiar experience for Auburn fans accustomed to SEC road games.
“As a player I played there two times, I believe, and as a GA (graduate assistant coach) I played there once and I think we played them there one time in four years when I was coaching at Carolina,” says Thigpen, a former star player for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
“It is as close to the SEC as you can get,” he says. “The fans come early and stay late. It is loud. They are into it. It is going to be one of the louder crowds we have been around. It kind of reminds me of the LSU crowd.
“Defensively, we should be able to communicate out there,” Thigpen says, noting the home crowd will be relatively quiet when Clemson has the football. “When we have the ball it could be a challenge.”
Auburn and Clemson bring 2-0 records into the contest. Auburn has a 42-38 victory over Utah State and a 41-34 victory over Mississippi State to start the season.
Clemson opened with a 43-19 victory over Troy and then outscored Wofford 35-27 last week.
Auburn edged Clemson 27-24 in overtime last year and is looking for its 15th consecutive win over Clemson in the on-again, off-again series that started in 1899.
Auburn has an overall record of 34-11-2 in games vs. Clemson and the 2010 SEC and national champions are also looking to extend their nation’s longest winning streak that has reached 17 games, three shy of the school record set in 1993-94.
Saturday’s game will be televised by ABC as Auburn makes its first appearance at Clemson since the 1970 season. Auburn jumped on the home team that day. Coach Shug Jordan’s Tigers, featuring All-American quarterback and future Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan, coasted to a 44-0 victory.
This year’s game features teams starting new quarterbacks. Barrett Trotter will be making his first road start for Auburn while Tajh Boyd is in charge of the Clemson offense, which will face an Auburn defense that has struggled so far this season as it tries to replace eight starters, including the safeties.
Barrett Trotter is shown in his first start two games ago vs. Utah State.
Asked how his two new starting safeties are doing so far this season, Thigpen says senior Neiko Thorpe and sophomore Demetruce McNeal are making progress. “Both got better last week,” he notes. “Demetruce made some plays and Neiko is starting to find his niche. He had around 18 or 19 tackles against Mississippi State.
“Neiko is now starting to get into because he feels like he can really play this position,” Thigpen says of Thorpe, who made the move to safety from cornerback in spring training. “Now he is taking ownership in it. With all of the range he has got, we can still get a lot more out of him.”
Neiko Thorpe is shown in practice as he learns the finer points of playing safety after starting the previous two seasons at cornerback.
Thigpen says if Thorpe becomes a “student of the game” like last year’s safeties, Zac Etheridge and Aairon Savage, the senior can have a major impact on the 2011 Auburn defense.
The next safety in the playing rotation is newcomer Erique Florence. “He is making a lot of progress,” says Thigpen, who likes the true freshman’s aggressive style of play.
“He is probably one of the more vicious kids we have on the back end,” Thigpen says of the 2010 Under Armour All-American from Valley High. “He is just young and is making mistakes like every 18 or 19-year-old kid does. The game is really important to him and you wouldn’t know he is a freshman from his demeanor. He is a real serious kid and I am really proud how he has handled himself on and off the field.”
Thigpen notes the Tigers understand the challenge of playing on the road with a team counting on so many young players, but says the team is looking forward to taking on Clemson. “This is probably one of the most mature young groups we have been around,” he says. “They have a lot of swag about them. Yes, they are going to mess up a lot of things, but football is so important to the kids and they want to be good.
“They don’t have any idea yet what it takes to be good, but everything Chiz (head coach Gene Chizik) tells them they seem to be buying into and that is a good start,” the safeties coach adds.
Auburn goes into the game ranked 19th/21st in the major polls this week while Clemson is trying to move into the Top 25.
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