Clemson might be done with video-game football for a while, but the defending football champions aren’t done with winning.
Back-to-back sacks of Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham with under four minutes left secured a 14-6 home victory over a team that entered this game ranked 13th nationally. Clemson, 2-0 and facing a road game against 17th-ranked Louisville next, never dominated, but this team’s strength – the defensive front seven – made enough plays to keep Auburn out of the end zone.
That defense didn’t have a great beginning, in part due to penalties. Auburn’s game-opening possession lasted more than seven minutes before Clemson toughened up near the goal line to force a field goal. While Clemson outgained Auburn in yardage, Auburn continuously had an advantage in time of possession.
It just didn’t matter, because Auburn couldn’t convert field position into touchdowns.
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That Clemson defense has a big challenge Saturday, facing Lamar Jackson, Louisville’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Jackson had another spectacular game Saturday in Chapel Hill, accounting for more than 500 yards of total offense in a 47-35 victory over North Carolina.
Three who mattered
Kelly Bryant: That 27-yard keeper early in the second half for a touchdown was – dare we say it – a bit Deshaun Watson-like from Clemson’s new starting quarterback.
Ray-Ray McCloud: Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow draw more attention at wide receiver, but McCloud was so solid Saturday as a pass-catcher.
Tre Lamar: Clemson’s sophomore linebacker had a big sack in the third quarter.
▪ A night game didn’t keep Clemson fans from showing up real early for this 7 p.m. kickoff. By four hours before game time, nearly every parking space was filled and tailgating tents, big-screen televisions and generators were up-and-running. That meant the stragglers (like the media) never hit traffic from I-85 to campus.
▪ Plenty of Auburn fans made the drive to Clemson for this one, which meant the crowd was sprinkled with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s college jersey.
▪ When Auburn made a first-quarter field goal, it was just the second time in 18 games Clemson gave up a score on the opposing team’s opening drive. The other in that span was against Pittsburgh, a loss last season.
▪ It had to be deflating for Auburn to go into halftime trailing 7-6 after controling possession so thoroughly (nearly 19 minutes to Clemson’s 11).
▪ There’s just one North Carolina player on Auburn’s roster: Freshman Nick Coe, a backup defensive end, is from Asheboro.
▪ Clemson should be elite this season at holding opponent red-zone possessions to three points with two such exceptional defensive tackles as Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins.
▪ Bryant left the game briefly in the first half, after being shaken up while throwing a screen pass. He came back to lead Clemson’s only first-half scoring drive.
▪ Clemson’s experienced offensive line took a while to click Saturday. That first drive of the second half – for 79 yards – was more like what coach Dabo Swinney expected from that group.
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell