Same old Auburn?

It sure looked that way Saturday night, even when the Tigers were dominating time of possession and building a 6-0 lead that held up until the last minute of the first half.

There’s no shame in losing to No. 3 Clemson, the defending national champion, on the road.

But for Auburn fans looking for signs that their Tigers can top out north of 8-5 for the first time in four seasons, the 14-6 loss leaves all of the questions that were there when the season started.

Sure, you can count on Kamryn Pettway to run hard and tough, and you can count on Auburn’s defense to bring it for four quarters.

The obvious missing piece is the passing game.

Last season, Tony Stevens led Auburn in receiving yards with 487 — the worst team-leading total since 2008. And he’s gone. Through two games in 2017, no one is making Auburn fans forget Sammie Coates or even Ricardo Louis.

Jarrett Stidham and new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey were supposed to change all that, right?

Granted, Stidham spent a lot of time running for his life — he was sacked 11 times.

Still, if he has a clock in his head, it’s running slow. There’s no rhythm. The ball isn’t coming out. Receivers are not open. Even when Pettway was pounding for positive yards in the first quarter, it didn’t open things up. The biggest “pass plays” were interference calls.

One was left wondering things such as:

  • Does Auburn have a tight end?
  • Is Darius Slayton (no catches) playing in this game?
  • Is back-from-suspension Kyle Davis supposed to be the go-to receiver? (He did draw two interference penalties to go along with his 1 catch.)
  • Is this really Lindsey’s offense?
  • Is Stidham in some kind of funk like Maverick after Goose died in the movie Top Gun?

Same old Auburn?

It sure looked that way in the first half, for better and worse.

The defense was stout. Clemson went nowhere in the first quarter. Nick Coe and Jeff Holland combined on a sack to end Clemson’s first drive. Jeremiah Dinson stripped Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud and recovered the fumble. That was a one-and-out.

At the one-quarter post, Clemson had run five plays for 5 yards.

Meanwhile, Auburn rode Pettway on a glamour-free, 15-play, 69-yard drive to an opening field goal.

After 15 minutes, Pettway had 53 yards on 12 carries. And Stidham had completed exactly one pass — Nate Craig-Myers soared to snare a high ball and held on through a jarring hit as Auburn avoided an opening three-and-out with a 23-yard pass play.

Daniel Carlson, back to being Mr. Reliable after missing twice last week, hit field goals from 24 and 28 yards.

The bad?

  • Gaining 1 yard on three plays and settling for a field goal after recovering a fumble on Clemson’s 11-yard line.
  • After converting on fourth-and-one from the 5, STILL having to settle for a field goal after taking a delay of game penalty on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
  • Pettway having only 6 rushing yards in the second quarter.
  • Stidham going 6-for-11 for 39 yards in the first half, with four sacks losing 22 yards.
  • No receivers — with MAYBE one exception — springing open based on play design or great individual effort. Will Hastings, who showed some ability to get open in Week 1, was targeted only once and seemed to take a back seat to Kyle Davis.

Clemson did nothing until late in the second quarter, yet took a 7-6 lead to the locker room.

Kelly Bryant, the junior first-year starting quarterback for Clemson, seemed to wake up after his near-death experience underneath Dontavius Russell.

Bryant missed a few plays after Russell fell on him just after he released a pass. When he returned, he was a new guy. He led touchdown drives to end the first half and start the second, and that was that.

He accounted for 249 of Clemson’s 283 total yards — or, to put in another way — more than twice as many total yards as Auburn (117) had.

In critical situations, Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow (9 receptions for 62 yards) seemed to always to be available for Bryant, a safety valve receiver on third downs. Ray-Ray McCloud complemented Renfrow with a bit more of a big-play game, catching 6 balls for 81 yards.

Auburn has nobody close. Gus Malzahn and Lindsey need to find one — or, preferably, several. That should be more of a priority next weekend against Mercer than feeding Pettway or any other back.

The final numbers Saturday night were brutal. Stidham went 13-of-24 for 79 yards — all but 7 of those yards negated by yards lost on the 11 sacks. Pettway had 31 yards in the final three quarters. Ryan Davis, I guess, emerged as the go-to receiver. He had 8 catches for a whopping 32 yards.

The only Auburn completion that netted more than 10 yards happened in the first minute of the game — Craig-Myers’ aforementioned third-down conversion (his only catch).

This is the Auburn team we already knew, and it has no chance against Alabama or LSU. Defense and a running game get you to the table in the SEC West, but when the Crimson Tide calls your bluff, you best have something more in your hand.