Rapid Reaction: Auburn suffers 19-13 heartbreaker to No. 2 Clemson
Auburn almost pulled off the biggest upset of Week 1, but it couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity. Here are some quick thoughts on Auburn’s heartbreaking 19-13 loss to No. 2 Clemson on The Plains.
What it means: This loss wasn’t unexpected, but it was painful to watch after the way Auburn hung in there on Saturday night against Clemson. And even though it lost, AU showed potential against a great team.
What I liked:
- Auburn’s defense in the first quarter held Clemson to 85 yards of total offense. Heisman favorite QB Deshaun Watson only clocked 35 passing yards and six yards on the ground.
- Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson finally emerged on the scene. Despite the questionable coaching decisions, Johnson made the most of his playing time, going 4-of-6 for 38 yards and an interception. But to be honest, the numbers don’t reflect how well he did on the field.
- Tigers QB Sean White also proved his worth tonight, which is probably fueling coach Gus Malzahn’s insistence on swapping out quarterbacks every few plays. White went 10-of-21 for 140 yards and an interception. And he really turned it on in the last drive of the game, though it wasn’t enough to pull away with one of Auburn’s signature miracle wins.
- Auburn’s fight in this game was admirable. To be honest, the unranked Tigers had no reason to come into this game believing they could leave with a win, but you never would’ve guessed that by watching the way they played.
- The Auburn crowd stuck with their Tigers all the way to the end, and they rocked the mental game for Clemson. Crowd noise really got into the heads of the visiting Tigers, forcing error and delays.
What I didn’t like:
- Auburn’s offense in the first quarter was abysmal. The team couldn’t even get a first down until the end of the quarter. It only managed 19 yards of total offense, and it really looks like the Tigers are missing RB Jovon Robinson.
- The quarterback shuffle didn’t do anyone any favors. Malzahn gave all three quarterbacks playing time, and Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and John Franklin III split the stats in the first quarter, each going 1-of-1. Whether Malzahn is using this as a situation approach or if he’s simply feeling them out, it’s of little significance. They’ve got to create a rhythm and consistency, and swapping them out so much that their heads spin doesn’t accomplish that.
- The Auburn defense simply couldn’t cover Clemson WR Mike Williams. A few players got close, but “decent” coverage won’t cut it against a team like Clemson.
- The tempo throughout the game was inconsistent at best and slow at worst. A lot of the tempo issues can be directly attributed to Malzahn’s decision to swap out the quarterbacks even when they were on a roll. It messed with the rhythm, and I’d go as far as to say it cost Auburn what would have been a huge win.
- Tray Matthews lost his cool early in the fourth quarter, grabbing the facemask of a Clemson player and shoving him directly in front of the referee. The personal foul put the No. 2 Tigers at 1st-and-goal and led to a huge Clemson touchdown.
Who’s the man:
Really, this is the entire Auburn defense. It held Clemson to 399 yards and 19 points, and Auburn DB Joshua Holsey pulled in an interception. Auburn DB Carlton Davis was also great tonight, forcing a fumble, making huge stops and providing the best coverage of Williams throughout the game. And let’s not forget K Daniel Carlson’s 53-yard field goal, Auburn’s first score of the night.
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When Johnson got the Tigers’ initial first down late in the first quarter, it breathed some life into an Auburn team that may have been losing some confidence. While it didn’t do much for the outcome, it kept Auburn in the game.
Auburn looks to recover in Week 2 when it faces Arkansas State (0-1) at home. It’s a good opportunity for Auburn to figure out its quarterback situation before SEC play begins the following week at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Texas A&M.