Clemson seized their opportunities and Auburn did not, and this was the theme of Clemson’s 14-6 win over Auburn. Clemson scored two touchdowns and Auburn two field goals in a slugfest marked by both excellent defensive performances and spells of anemic drives by the offenses.
As Coach Swinney stated; “I feel like I’m back at Alabama in 1988 after that one. What a tough, gritty game. That’s such a reflection of the heart of our guys. You have to find ways to win games, especially early in the season, and I’m just really proud of our guys, particularly on defense.”
Clemson’s defense played a historic game on both an individual and team level. Clemson held Auburn to 117 total yards while sacking Jarrett Stidham eleven times – one shy of the school record (Furman 1996).
Austin Bryant tied the Clemson single game sack record with four, joining Keith Adams (1999) and Andre Branch (2011).
Dorian O’Daniel had ten tackles in the first 25 minutes of gameplay, ending with 14 total tackles and 1.5 sacks.
The heroic efforts were not limited to the starters, as Tre Lamar’s 14-yard sack on fourth down gave Clemson the ball back after CJ Fuller fumbled the ball early in the third quarter. JD Davis also recorded his first career sack.
Auburn’s vaunted rushing game and running back combination was nowhere to be found, as Auburn only ran for 38 net yards (111 yards gained) on 42 attempts.
The passing game was just as dreadful, as Stidham’s passing line was 13 completions and 21 attempts for 79 yards, while taking the 11 sacks for 72 lost yards.
While Jarrett Stidham crumbled, Kelly Bryant rose to the occasion and performed well under pressure. He completed 20 passes on 31 attempts for 185 yards, but his two rushing scores and 59 net yards (88 gained) provided enough juice for Clemson to defeat Auburn.
Although this was a big night for some of the younger players by the statistics, Ray Ray McCloud and Mark Fields were two players that Coach Swinney said took great steps of maturation tonight.
McCloud fumbled the ball late in the first quarter on a questionable call, and one could have envisioned a game where Clemson collapsed under the pressure.
Instead, Clemson’s defense took advantage of Auburn’s horrendous game management and held Auburn to a field goal. Ray Ray then recovered from his mistake to catch six passes for 81 yards and four returns for 17 yards.
In classic fashion, big game Hunter Renfrow was Clemson’s leading pass catcher as he caught nine passes for 62 yards, and the third down conversion to win the game.
The other important factor was the adjustments (or lack thereof) of the coaching staffs.
Coach Swinney mentioned after the game that they “found some things” and finally got in a rhythm as they scored two touchdowns to end the first half and start the second half.
Defensively, Clemson cleaned up their solid coverage after misusing their hands and committing pass interference twice in the first quarter.
On the other hand, Gus Malzahn’s play calling was brutal and adjustments were minimal. While Auburn started off with the advantage, they couldn’t counter Clemson’s adjustments.
Clemson is not perfect: the pass protection was not up to Coach Swinney’s standards, the lack of rhythm was concerning, and there is always room for improvement.
But in a clash of two top five defenses, Clemson played relentless football and came away with valuable experience and a home win against a Top 25 team.