Auburn Prepares for Tough Clemson Environment
Wide Receiver Ryan Davis says that Auburn is ready to bounce back from last season's 19-13 loss to Clemson at Jordan-Hare Stadium (Photo: Auburn Athletics/Catherine Wofford)
Clemson Memorial Stadium, known to many as "Death Valley", has lived up to its' iconic nickname over recent years. The Clemson Tigers, led by Coach Dabo Swinney, have posted a 45-4 record since 2010 and have four perfect, seven-win seasons in that time.
The term "Death Valley" stems from former Presbyterian Head Coach Lonnie McMillan told sports writers that he would reference playing Clemson in 1948 as "taking them to Death Valley." Legendary Coach Frank Howard began using the term full time in the 1950s.
Howard was also behind the unique tradition of "rubbing the rock." Before each home game, Clemson coaches and players will rub "Howard's Rock" for good luck, before running down the hill on the east side of the stadium. Howard received the rock as a gift from a friend who visited Death Valley, California. For many years, Howard used the rock as a door stop before telling a booster to toss it. The booster, Gene WIllimon, placed the rock at the top of the hill, where it remains today.
It's traditions like "running the rock" and "running down the hill", that make the atmosphere at Clemson Memorial Stadium unlike anything else. Mix that with the recent success of Clemson Football, and Saturday's in Upstate South Carolina are a fun event to be a part of.
For Auburn, they will get to experience the atmosphere of Death Valley on Saturday evening against the defending national champion. Defensive Coordinator, Kevin Steele, spent 2009-2011 at Clemson as defensive coordinator. He tells his players that Saturday's in Clemson are very similar to what they will experience at other stadiums around the SEC.
"Baton Rouge, Tuscaloosa, Fayetteville," says Steele, comparing Clemson Memorial Stadium to others around the league. "It’s a hard place to play. They are a very energetic, loud crowd.”
Clemson was one game shy of completing their fourth-straight season by winning seven games at home, and losing none. A late field goal by Pittsburgh on November 12 pushed the Panthers ahead 43-42, ultimately giving them the win, and snapping the Tigers 26-game winning streak inside the walls of Memorial Stadium.
Head Coach Gus Malzahn believes that playing in a tough environment early in the season will really give him an idea of how his team will compete in tough situations.
"We’re playing Clemson, the defending national champions who played in the last two national championship games. We’re playing them on their home field, one of the toughest places to play in college football. 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.”
Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium holds 87,451 fans. That number should not intimidate many players on the roster. However, playing in front of 80,000-plus fans can change quickly when a majority of the crowd is cheering against you.
Wide Receiver Ryan Davis says that the electric atmosphere is something that will be utilized during practice, leading up to game day. Although, it will not paint the full picture of what to expect.
"You really can’t simulate it", says the junior from St. Petersburg, Florida in regards to the crowd noise at Clemson Memorial Stadium. "We are probably going to try to make loud noises at practice, play loud music. You can never simulate being at a place like that.”
While playing at a venue such as "Death Valley" can challenge visitors, the players are excited to hit the field Saturday, and take it all in.
"We look forward to any game that we go to, especially going into that environment," says junior defensive lineman, Dontavius Russell. "I feel like it is a good environment to play in. We are looking forward to it.”
Outside of Clemson Memorial Stadium, the largest crowd that Auburn will play in front of, outside of their own stadium, will be Texas A&M's Kyle Field on November 4. The home of Aggie Football now holds 102,733 fans since it's completed renovation in 2015.