Auburn had a new quarterback, but its offense looked all too familiar.
The same can be said about Clemson.
Kelly Bryant outplayed Jarrett Stidham, and that was the difference in No. 3 Clemson knocking off No. 13 Auburn 14-6 in Death Valley.
Bryant, tasked with the impossible mission of replacing Deshaun Watson, dialed up an impressive impression Saturday night. The numbers weren’t otherworldly, but the timing was pretty special.
On Clemson’s biggest drive, Bryant passed for 69 yards, scrambled for 9 more and scored on a designed draw to give the Tigers a 7-6 advantage.
Big-play Bryant was just getting warmed up. He opened the second half by hitting Ray-Ray McLoud on a 33-yard pass and capped the 79-yard drive with a twisting, darting 27-yard touchdown run.
Clemson, shut out on its first four drives, scored on consecutive possessions. Auburn’s 14-6 deficit certainly felt larger after the Tigers sacked Stidham on back-to-back dropbacks to force a three-and-out.
Marlon Davidson forced a fumble to momentarily stop Clemson’s momentum, but Auburn couldn’t capitalize. It was a recurring theme of the second half.
On 4th-and-3 at Clemson’s 37, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn put the ball in Stidham’s hands. The moment called for magic. Instead, Clemson provided more menace.
Stidham faked a handoff that fooled no one, and he couldn’t spin away from Clemson’s blitz. He was sacked, for the seventh time, but there would be more. He rarely had a clean pocket and he missed the few long ball opportunities he had.
Clemson has won four consecutive games against the SEC, but it never really put Auburn away. But Auburn never strung enough first downs together in the second half to make it matter. Even after a punt return gave Auburn yet another chance late in the fourth quarter of a one-score game, three more sacks on consecutive snaps ended the threat.
Stidham completed 13 passes for 79 yards. He was sacked 11 times. That’s impossible math to overcome.
Clemson is built SEC-tough, with SEC parts.
Its defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. It made Stidham uncomfortable. Auburn’s bruising back, Kamryn Pettway, a non-factor last year against Clemson, earned every tough yard he gained Saturday. The running game didn’t offer nearly enough help.
Stidham was brought to the Plains for the purpose of revitalizing the offense and winning big games such as this. It was clear that Clemson’s approach was to force Stidham to win it with his arm.
He couldn’t. And that’s been Auburn’s problem of late.