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The Day After: Clemson Tigers Defense Stymies Auburn, Offense a Work in Progress

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NCAA Football: Auburn at Clemson Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Good.

Pretty much the entire defense.

This was the most dominant defensive performance by a Clemson team in the last fifteen years.

On the first drive Clemson gave up a PI and got flagged for 12 men on the field, but buckled down after some missed run fits. After that it was lights out. A fumble inside the 15 yard line got stoned on the goal-line. Clemson hasn’t given up a touchdown yet this season. That is incredible. Kent State gained more total yards than Auburn.

My player of the game was Dorian O’Daniel. He had 14 tackles and was all over the field, chasing plays down from the backside. He gives Clemson a sure tackler, more speed on the field, and someone who can play the pass and the run. He gets off blocks. You could see a huge difference when Jalen Williams entered the game and got caught in the wash of Lineman. O’Daniel is a difference maker for this team.

Austin Bryant showed us what he is capable of fully healthy. He looks toned up and like a completely different player from last year. 7 tackles and 4 sacks! That is a stat line. It was such a good performance that we need to start thinking about losing him to the draft next year as well.

K’von Wallace played a strong game and came up effectively in run support and didn’t bite on some of the trick plays, misdirection. He had some alignment issues and communication issues, but that is to be expected and easily fixable. Smith will still be the starter when he comes back, but if he isn’t 100% for Louisville then I think we stay with Wallace because we will need the speed to cover all the crossing routes Louisville runs. At the very least we found some quality depth at Free Safety, which is exciting.

Tanner Muse showed up and played physical. I know Pettway was dealing with a foot/heel issue, but part of the reason he didn’t get going into the second level was Tanner Muse. Muse, DOD, and Wallace wrapped up and tackled.

I was probably most happy about the performance by Trayvon Mullen. You know you are going to get a great performance by the Dline, but bad corner play will force you to change your entire scheme. I expected big things from Mullen, even last year, but it is obvious that Mullen now knows the defensive system (he was directing traffic for Wallace and Fields on more than one occasion). He didn’t give up any plays over the top. Stidham held the ball too long and Mullen was a big part of those 11 sacks.

I could go on—Joseph is quietly becoming one of the better LBs to play at Clemson in the BV scheme. Tre Lamar had the huge fourth down stop and is progressing in his run fits (AU is a lot for a MLB to process). How much is Gus wishing he had taken Lamar from us during his recruitment? Chad Smith came in and provided actual depth at LB. He made some plays and should have had a sack himself. Ryan Carter is just a valuable, versatile piece in the secondary. AJ Terrell got reps late in the fourth quarter and held up very well.

Ferrell did a great job covering some of the backs leaking out and recognizing screen plays. Really smart plays from Ferrell in addition to forcing the fumble and being a terror on the edge.

Credit where credit is due. JD Davis got a sack. Brent Venables is a man of miracles. (no seriously, congrats to JD)

Offense

You know who did a great job of blocking in this game. Tavien Feaster. He blocked well throughout the game, but he was in at the end of the game and did well. He deserves more touches.

We have a lot to fix on offense, but I’m reminded that Clemson struggled offensively against Auburn last year as well. DW struggled against Kevin Steele and his scheme. First Kelly Bryant didn’t turn the ball over or throw an interception. That is huge. He threw one ball late down low to Richard that was a poor decision, but other than that everything was safe.

He threw a couple of beautiful balls to RayRay that were indefensible and perfectly positioned to the outside shoulder. The first was a 3rd and 10 pass that changed the trajectory of the game and led to the first score before the half. He got knocked out of the game, but came back and wasn’t rattled.

Other screen passes that looked suspect were really more about the blocking than they were about Kelly. Bryant has some wheels and was the only runner to really break any tackles during the game. His legs were the difference in the game.

Cain looked like an alpha wide receiver and bailed out KB on some 50/50 balls. If Cain can keep making those catches, then keep chucking them up to him.

For all the struggles the offense had—they got the two first downs needed to ice the game away. Last year the offense couldn’t do that and it almost cost Clemson the win and possibly a national title. Bryant rolled out and hit Renfrow, who had another unheralded masterful performance, and then wouldn’t be denied the first down.

Will Spiers may not have the best touch on his punts, but I am fine if he can punt it 50 yards every time. His get-off times were fine and other than a rugby punt that didn’t get angled enough, he was a field position weapon.

Can’t forget TJ Chase. If he doesn’t tackle Matthews, who had scooped up the ball, that was going to be a defensive TD.

The Bad

Turnovers. RayRay gifting Auburn the ball inside the 15 yard line, yikes. Fuller (who I can’t remember fumbling previous to this play) killed a drive that was going to score some points and put the game away. This offense can’t afford to make mistakes and put the ball on the ground. Really disappointed in RayRay, but glad he bounced back.

Not capitalizing on field position. The offense had great field position almost all night. We had consecutive drives where we had the ball in plus territory or near the 50 and didn’t score any points.

Some of our perimeter blocking was lacking. First drive McCloud got blown up because Richard misses a block on the corner. Cain misses a block that allows the RB to get absolutely lit up on a quick pitch.

The offensive line had a rough night, especially the Tackles. Look, Deshaun Watson and his uncanny ability to feel pressure and escape it made our Tackles look better than they were last year. Bryant will need to learn to be a bit more decisive and move up in the pocket more, but that will come with time and it isn’t going to be his strength.

Mitch Hyatt didn’t have a great game, but that holding call was suspect at best (granted there were other calls that could have been made against the offensive line, Muse should have been called for defensive holding when he got beat on a double move, so it evens out). Hearn gave up one sack, but I was surprised at how well the interior of the line held up in pass protection. Falcinelli played solid again and only had one snap that was a bit high.

The tackles must help KB out much more. Give credit to Auburn’s Dline, but I think FSU and NC State have better lines and RT was an atrocity all night. Holland (#4) gave our guys problems all night and he wasn’t doing anything all that special. Our guys were just getting beat.

Mark Fields didn’t play as bad as I initially thought. Losing Marcus Edmond to a foot sprain is not ideal. Fields got a PI call where he would have been fine if he trusted his positioning instead of constantly trying to run guys out of bounds. He also went stone hands on a sure interception thrown directly to him (I will give him credit for being in good position). He was in position most of the night, which is enough at the field corner position. Don’t get me wrong, I like that our corners are aggressive and with no spot fouls on PI it makes a ton of sense to be overly physical. Fields is a junior, though, and we need him to not be a liability with Lamar Jackson ready to attack our secondary.

Special Teams

We need to shore up the punt coverage team a bit. Some guys missed some lanes and Auburn almost broke one for a TD if not for a shoe string tackle from Ryan Carter. Great effort and a great play by Carter. That was more about the rugby kick positioning, but something to watch.

Huegel did not look good on his kick. Anything above 45 yards is not his forte, but still...We will need him to be solid against Louisville. The snaps and holding were solid.

The Ugly

RT was just the worst. Third and one on a crucial drive and Hearn pulls straight into Pollard who is pass blocking or something. Neither guy can get to the LB who gobbles Bryant up a yard short. Miscommunication. Ugly.

Dexter Lawrence is having issues with his toe. He is still an amazing player despite the injury, but the toe is definitely bothering him. I hope after Louisville we can find games to really help him rest. Would be nice to give him a break for the BC game and maybe for the Wake Forest game (he can definitely rest against Syracuse...). I questioned during the game why Jabril Robinson was the first man off the bench, but after watching the game again it was obvious that Dex needs to be played sparingly. I do question why Huggins didn’t get more snaps in the game. Robinson wasn’t bad, but I’d like to see more Pinckney and Huggins. Our lack of depth at DE made Wilkins move outside for a series as well. We miss Pagano already.

Conclusion

I’m extremely pleased with this win. Auburn needs to work the kinks out offensively, but they are a top 15 team when all is said and done. The upcoming road tests will be difficult for Clemson and FSU is always a tough game, but this was one of the major roadblocks on our schedule. The offense and the running game in particular must improve to make things easier on KB, but that can come in time.

Louisville will be a challenge and could be the second toughest game we play. I’m cautiously optimistic, but Lamar Jackson is going to get his points. The offense needs to beat a depleted Louisville secondary and score some points.

Also Clemson is still the original (and best looking) Death Valley SEC Network.