Clemson and Auburn played through a sluggish first half at the Georgia Dome before the reigning ACC champions turned up the heat in the fourth quater en route to a 23-16 victory, their second straight over their SEC foes.
Clemson got on the board first with a field goal by Chandler Catanzaro in the first quarter, but Auburn quickly answered with a 54-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Kiehl Frazier to Emory Blake. Clemson tacked on another field goal in the second quarter after recovering a Tre Mason fumble, and added their first touchdown of the game after an interception by Rashard Hall inside the red zone. Clemson embarked on a three play, 85 yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 68 yard run by Andre Ellington, setting up Roderick McDowell for a seven yard run to make it 13-7. Cody Parkey capped a 12 play drive with a field goal for Auburn, and Clemson's attempt at answering with one of their own to end the game went for naught after Spencer Benton missed from 55.
The third quarter was a lot of nothing, with a total of three field goals coming after some plodding drives. Then in the fourth, Clemson went nuts. They answered Parkey's fourth field goal of the game with a ten play, 75 yard touchdown drive that saw Tajh Boyd throw just twice, including a TD pass to DeAndre Hopkins. Auburn's drive following that touchdown sputtered out and ended with a punt, and Clemson killed most of the remaining clock on the subsequent drive thanks to Ellington's legs and a couple of short Boyd passes. They added another field goal, and Auburn's final attempt at a game-tying touchdown resulted in a drive that didn't even cross midfield in six plays, with only one play going for positive yardage.
While Clemson gets a big win to start the year after getting smashed in the Orange Bowl by West Virginia, I'm really not sure where this leaves Auburn. Kiehl Frazier looked overmatched all game, and only completed 11 of his 27 passes. Furthermore, just five of those completions went to wide receivers (with four going to Emory Blake). On the other side of the coin, Auburn's ground game looked pretty good, even without Michael Dyer. Tre Mason rushed 14 times for 106 yards, and Onterrio McCalebb had 82 yards on 12 carries. I have a nagging feeling that this year's team is going to look more like last season's team with Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley managing the game, and letting the backs run wild. The defense also struggled, getting gashed for 528 yards, including 320 on the ground. They had a ton of problems with the speed of Andre Ellington, and that will be an issue in the SEC.
As for Clemson, they looked like a well-oiled machine in the second half. Ellington ran all over Auburn, and Boyd's only real mistake was an interception to start the fourth quarter. Hopkins also emerged as yet another weapon for Clemon, catching 13 balls from Boyd and moving the chains five times (not including his TD catch, and a couple catches that fell just a yard shy of the first down). Once Sammy Watkins returns, Clemson could be a very dangerous team, and their showdown with Florida State in three weeks is looking like it'll be a doozy.
Auburn was a good match for the Tigers and a good test. Both teams moved the ball well. Neither were convincing in the Red Zone. Way too may field goals on both sides. Auburn had two long passes. Clem had two long runs. Clem had lots of costly penalties. Auburn moved the ball with great ease. Where is Clem's big running back? The Power Guy? Their John Riggins, so to speak. I have a feeling that even with Sammy in the lineup, Seminoles defense won't cut Boyd and Hopkins any breaks like Auburn did. The Noles are going to want to make a statement and pound Clem into a humiliating loss.
I hope Sammy gets to play and Clem is prepared. That being the case, it could be the game of the year in the ACC.