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Clemson vs. Auburn: Death Valley’s Tigers Stifle the Visiting Tigers with Smothering Defense

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Clemson’s defense flexes its muscle in a dominant performance against Auburn.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Clemson
Clelin Ferrell brings the heat to Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham in Death Valley.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson came into a highly anticipated matchup with Auburn in Death Valley ready to show that they were a playoff caliber team. Two of the nation’s best defenses were on display, and the game was expected to be a slugfest. The first half certainly lived up to those expectations and it was a defensive struggle all night. Clemson’s offense was able to pass the ball better, especially in the second half, a testament to good coverage by the Clemson secondary against Auburn’s passing attack.

Auburn’s offense started out at a better pace than Clemson’s though. On their first drive, they moved the ball well but Clemson’s defense held at the end and forced a field goal to make it 3-0 for the visiting Tigers.

On Clemson’s first possession, Auburn’s defensive front showed why they are held in such high regard, as they put pressure on Kelly Bryant from his right side. Clemson’s right tackles were having trouble keeping up with the athleticism of the Auburn pass rushers. Bryant was sacked on 3rd and 8 and Clemson punted it away.

On Auburn’s next possession, pass interference penalties hurt the home team Tigers. Auburn tried a trick play but Clemson’s defense was disciplined and forced a punt. Clemson’s possession was short-lived, however, as Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled, giving Auburn the ball deep in Clemson territory. The Clemson defense held and limited the damage to a field goal to make it 6-0 Auburn.

Adam Choice was running well on the next Clemson possession, but miscommunication on the right side of the line on third down kept Bryant from getting the first down as he was tackled by an unblocked linebacker. The Clemson defense held Auburn on the next series and McCloud had a nice punt return. Choice ran well again, but a clear pass interference penalty against Deon Cain was missed by the officials. Greg Huegel then came on and kicked one of the worst field goal attempts I have seen in a while. The frustration was evident in Death Valley.

On the ensuing possession, defensive coordinator Brent Venables seemed to be dialing up the pressure on the Auburn offense. The Clemson secondary was also doing a good job in coverage as Auburn tried to push it down the field. Bryant returned to the game having left after being driven into the ground hard earlier. Clemson had their best drive of the first half. The passing game started clicking with a good mix of medium and long passes to Cain, McCloud and Hunter Renfrow. With less than a minute left, Bryant ran it in from three yards out. The extra point game Clemson a 7-6 lead going into the half.

Clemson got the ball to start the second half and kept up the momentum they had at end of the first half. McCloud had a nice catch on the drive, and C.J. Fuller had a great block on a 3rd down conversion. Kelly Bryant reached the end zone on a nice 27-yard run that included a big broken tackle. Clemson led 14-6.

The next Auburn possession showed the greatness lurking in Clemson’s defense. Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant both had sacks to force an Auburn punt. McCloud had another good punt return but the possession was short-lived as Fuller fumbled the ball after another miscue by the offensive line. The Clemson defense held again as Tre Lamar sacked Stidham on 4th down to put the Clemson offense back on the field. The Auburn defense had a good series though, and kept Clemson from taking advantage of good field position.

The next two possessions by both teams were won by the defenses. A nice punt put Auburn deep on their end of the field, and the Clemson defense pounced, forcing them to punt. Clemson then had a good drive, advancing primarily on runs by Bryant., but the drive stalled and Clemson punted, putting Auburn at their 14 yard line with ten minutes left in the 4th quarter. Auburn did manage a first down, but the Clemson defense continued to pressure Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham and forced another punt.

Clemson got the ball at their own 35 with about seven minutes left. Not much came of the drive as Auburn forced a 3-and-out. The punt was less than optimal and Auburn returned it 24 yards to start their drive at their own 45. The Clemson defense gave up a first down and then feasted, getting three sacks in a row.

Clemson took over with a little over three minutes left. After a couple of running plays and Auburn timeouts, Mr. Clutch, Renfrow, converted the 3rd down with a toe-down catch at the sideline after Bryant showed good pocket footwork to avoid rushing defenders. After another first down on a Bryant run, Clemson sealed the 14-6 win.

It was a big test for Clemson. The Tigers showed they can compete for another national championship. The offense certainly has some work to do, but Kelly Bryant has shown that he can keep a defense off balance with his arm as well as his legs. The Clemson defense was absolutely stifling, getting eleven sacks, and tackles for loss all night.

As always, STS will have full analysis of the game and previews of next week’s game at Louisville in the next few days, so check back with us. Let’s hear your thoughts on tonight’s performance in the comments below.