It’s always a special occasion when Clemson plays a home game, but night games in Death Valley are even more of a joy to watch. Fortunately, we were treated to a great game Saturday night as Clemson and Auburn battled it out in a close game where the good guys came out on top 14-6. Once again, the Tiger defense was special. Clemson sacked Jarrett Stidham 11 (!) times and kept him contained throughout the game. Despite only scoring 14 points, the offense flashed its potential. Thankfully, the Tiger offense did just enough to stay ahead of Auburn. Credit the Auburn defense for keeping its team in the game for so long. Even though Clemson struggled some offensively, there were several players that stood out.
Offense: Kelly Bryant and Ray-Ray McCloud
Kelly Bryant had an interesting night. He started off slow like the rest of the offense. Midway through the second quarter, Bryant took a big hit after throwing the ball and was driven into the ground hard by an Auburn defensive tackle. Bryant was very slow to get up after having the breath knocked out of him. Zerrick Cooper took over the drive that ended with Greg Huegel horribly missing a 46-yard field goal. Fortunately, KB was able to come back into the game on the next drive and he looked completely different. He completed some impressive throws to Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud, including a couple of passes of 20-plus yards down the field. Bryant capped off the drive on a quarterback power from three yards out right before halftime, giving Clemson the lead for the first time in the game. His score also gave Clemson some much-needed momentum for the rest of the game. On the first drive of the second half, Kelly once again looked impressive. He completed a nice over-the-shoulder pass to Ray-Ray McCloud for 33-yards, his longest pass of the day. He later finished the drive off with a physical 27-yard touchdown run. After the touchdown drive, the offense became a shell of itself from the previous two drives and never had a chance to score again. Despite a rather average day on offense, Kelly Bryant was impressive in his own right. He displayed his toughness after getting knocked out of the game and coming back in and showed this team that he won't back down. He threw the ball well and also didn’t commit a turnover. So far, the Kelly Bryant era has gone well!
Another offensive player that deserves recognition for his play on Saturday night is Ray-Ray McCloud. It’s already been mentioned above that he made some important catches, but the main reason I want to highlight him is for the way he battled back from adversity. On the second drive of the game, he fumbled the ball after catching a screen pass and having it stripped from his grip. Thankfully, he was able to shake off the turnover and finished as the leading receiver in yardage with 81 yards on 6 catches. Last year, McCloud most likely would have continued to have a disappointing day if something like that happened to him. Now, he’s mentally tougher and it seems he is poised to have a big year. Look for McCloud to be an important factor again this Saturday night when Clemson takes on Louisville.
Defense: Everyone??? (Especially K’Von Wallace and Austin Bryant)
Where to begin? What an amazing defensive performance. You could argue that it all started up front, but I’ll start in the back. The Clemson defensive backs were impressive, playing a huge part in holding Jarrett Stidham to just 79 yards passing. Several of the sacks Clemson forced were thanks in part to the coverage the DBs had on the Auburn receivers. K’Von Wallace is someone I want to specifically point out. Filling in for the injured Van Smith, Wallace was forced into a starting role and performed admirably. For the most part, he was in position and tackled well in the open field. This is a great development for the Tigers since the safety position is filled with young talent that isn’t as proven as other positions on defense. Hopefully, Van Smith can get healthy, but it’s great to know Wallace is more than a serviceable player at this stage in his college career.
I’ll touch on the linebackers below, but before I get to them I want to discuss Austin Bryant. Last week’s STS player of the game was impressive once again, racking up FOUR sacks and 7 total tackles. It was an incredible performance once again from the junior. Bryant’s play highlights the scary part about the Clemson defensive line: there are four elite players (not just two or three) that every offensive line and quarterback must contend with. It’s exciting to think about the success this line will have for the rest of the year, and they should be just as dominant next week versus a very average Louisville offensive line.
Overall Player of the Game: Dorian O’Daniel
The Clemson linebackers were impressive, but no one had a better game than O’Daniel. He had 10 tackles in the first half alone and finished the game with 14 total. He also had 1.5 sacks and 2 total TFL. O’Daniel was a physical force at SLB and played a huge part in clogging up running lanes. Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway was held to just 74 rushing yards on 22 carries, thanks in part to Number Six and the rest of the defense. O’Daniel, along with Kendall Joseph, Tre Lamar, and the rest of the linebackers provided Clemson with the ability to get to the quarterback all night. Auburn was not able to block the Clemson defensive line and the blitzing linebackers at the same time. All in all, it was dominate night for a defense that only surrendered 6 points, and O’Daniel played a huge role in this dominating and elite performance. Louisville and Lamar Jackson: you’re next.