AUBURN, Ala. — Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers need to give safety Jadar Johnson a seat at the front of the bus. The senior knocked down two Sean White passes in the end zone in the final seconds, including one on the last play as second-ranked Clemson survived Auburn, 19-13, on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.
Johnson’s two broken up passes allowed the Tigers’ to win for the first time at Auburn since 1950, and it also marked Clemson’s first true-road win since 1985.
Over the last month the talk around Clemson’s possible return trip to College Football Playoff has centered around its high-powered offense with quarterback Deshaun Watson and just about every offensive weapon coming back.
The only talk about Brent Venables’ defense was how could he possibly replace seven starters after losing eight the year before and still be a top 10 defense. If Saturday’s victory at Auburn was any indication, he has found another way.
Led by defensive end Christian Wilkins and freshman defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, second-ranked Clemson shutdown Gus Malzahn’s power spread offense, limiting the SEC’s Tigers to 87 rushing yards. Auburn averaged 194 yards a game a year ago on the ground.
The defense also had two goal line stops in the second half and held Auburn to 262 total yards.
Clemson’s offense got a one-yard touchdown run from Wayne Gallman in the second quarter, field goals of 30 and 40 yards from kicker Greg Huegel and a 16-yard Watson to Hunter Renfrow touchdown in the back of the end zone with 9:59 to play.
But, Huegel missed the extra point, and after linebacker Ben Boulware was called for a roughing the passer penalty, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson rumbled in from nine yards out to make it a six-point game with 3:22 to play.
Watson and the offense moved the ball down to the Auburn 17, but turned the ball over on downs with 40 seconds to play. White moved the SEC Tigers to the Clemson 40, but Johnson saved the day for the Tigers with a broken up pass with six seconds to play, and then a second one of the last play of the game.