College Sports

Clemson fans were cookin’ early for the Auburn game; defense made it worth the wait

Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway (36) is tackled by Clemson cornerback Ryan Carter (31) during the second half of Saturday’s game, a 14-6 win for Clemson.
Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway (36) is tackled by Clemson cornerback Ryan Carter (31) during the second half of Saturday’s game, a 14-6 win for Clemson. AP

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.

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.

Observations

▪  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.

Worth mentioning

▪  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

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