The longest possible college football off-season has to be the one endured by the team that lost in the national championship game the year before. For Clemson and its fans, that off-season finally ended tonight on the road in a tough match-up with Auburn. My initial reaction is welcome back Mike Williams, and hello big Dexter Lawrence.
The Clemson offense is loaded with talent, but they got off to a slow start. Deshaun Watson looked a bit rusty tonight. Eventually they found their rhythm and were able to move the ball when they remembered that they had this wide receiver named Mike Williams. He made several plays on a touchdown drive in the second quarter that ended with Wayne Gallman waltzing into the end zone behind the 650+ pounds of Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins. Even if opposing teams know what’s coming, I doubt Clemson will have any trouble converting 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1 situations this season. On the next series Big Dex showed how freakishly athletic he is for weighing nearly 350 pounds by chasing down the Auburn QB for a sack.
In the second half, Clemson fans were probably having flashbacks to last year’s national championship game when Auburn appeared to have a long kickoff return, but an Auburn penalty negated it. The defense held, and in Clemson’s first offensive series, Williams made a beautiful catch, with Wayne Gallman making a great blitz pickup block. The drive sputtered, and placeholder Seth Ryan made an impressive hold on a high snap to allow Greg Huegel to salvage the drive with a field goal.
The defenses continued to play well, with Jadar Johnson making a touchdown-saving interception, but on the ensuing series Deshaun made a bad throw that was picked off. The Clemson defense came through with a great 4th-and-1 stop to shut down another Auburn drive.
In the 4th quarter, Clemson had a good drive going but Mike Williams, in one of the very few miscues on his part in this game, dropped a sure touchdown. But Mr. Hands, Hunter Renfrow, made a great catch in the end zone, facilitated by another great blitz pickup by Gallman, to put six points on the board.
Bad coverage mistakes and penalties by Clemson on the next Auburn drive allowed them to move down the field. Big Dex showed just how difficult he will make life for opposing offenses when he stuffed a double-team block and stopped a 3rd down conversion by Auburn. Unfortunately, bad pass coverage allowed Auburn to make the 4th down conversion. Ben Boulware ended the Auburn drive with an interception.
On the next Auburn drive, Boulware committed a roughing the passer penalty that a senior defensive leader simply should not make, and Auburn scored on the next play, making for a very tense last few minutes of the game. Clemson was able to move the ball down the field, punctuated by a great catch by Williams and a good run by Gallman (assisted by a good downfield block from Williams), but they weren’t able to run out the clock. The Clemson defense came through on Auburn’s final possession, in particular Jadar Johnson, to keep the offense out of the end zone and preserve the victory for Clemson.
Look for detailed analyses on STS in the coming days, but Clemson has a few things to work on next week. There were many good things in the game, but also many mistakes. Fortunately, they were able to go into a very hostile environment and come away with a win against a good Auburn team. The offense showed flashes of dominance, but still needs to work on a few things. Coming into this season, the big questions were on the defensive side of the ball, but the Tiger defense played well. They too have a few things to work on, but overall they showed that they can be a strength for the team this season. With a tough win on the road, the Tigers are off to a good, if shaky, start.