Okay, let’s take a step back and really look at the big picture for a second.
Saturday night’s 19-13 win at Auburn was a big win, regardless of how the second-ranked Tigers played. It marked the first time since 1903 that the Tigers opened the season with a road win against a team currently in the SEC. It was also the program’s first true-road win to start a season since 1985.
Prior to Saturday night, the Tigers were just 2-9-1 in the previous 12 season-openers at the other team’s venue. So if you are disappointed with the Tigers’ six-point victory, you need to chill for a second and understand the context of what happened.
Did you know Auburn wins about 78 percent of its games at Jordan-Hare Stadium? That’s an even better mark than Clemson has in Death Valley. The SEC’s Tigers have also won 78 percent of their home openers through the years, including nine of their last 10.
My point here, enjoy the victory because it was an historical one.
With that said, I do understand some of the concern. The offense was inconsistent against a team many of us figured they would do better against. Also, the Tigers failed to put a team away they were clearly better than and nearly lost the game.
They were fortunate to leave Jordan-Hare with a win.
Defensively, there is little reason to be disappointed. Two stops inside its own 10-yard line, while also holding Auburn’s strong running game to 87 yards, that’s impressive. And though safety Jadar Johnson batted down two passes in the end zone to preserve the win, it never should have come down to that.
“The poise that they displayed and the three turnovers they forced were huge, but they also made some really critical mistakes,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on Sunday night. “But for the most part it is probably the fewest critical errors that we have had in a while, especially in an opener. But we did have a really, really dumb penalty that led to a touchdown. It would have been fourth-and-ten if we don’t hit the quarterback out of bounds. Those are the type of things you can’t do.”
Those are the types of things that cause you to get beat.
Leading 19-6 late in the fourth quarter, Auburn was facing a third down-and-10 at the Clemson 18. Quarterback Sean White was flushed out of the pocket and rolled to his right where his pass to Darius Slayton fell incomplete. However, as White was running out of bounds, Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware tagged the sophomore right by the official. He was called for roughing the passer.
Instead of being fourth-and-10 from the 18-yard line, it was first-and-goal at the nine, and then running back Kerryon Johnson ran off the right side for a nine-yard touchdown on the very next play to make the score 19-13 with 3:22 left on the clock.
“I didn’t know the situation. I was just being an idiot,” Boulware said afterwards. “I made a dumb hit on the quarterback. I made the situation stressful and I almost cost us the game.”
But Boulware wasn’t the only one who made a critical error. On Clemson’s last offensive possession, running back Wayne Gallman, who had a monster game with 123 yards and touchdown, unexplainably ran towards the sideline and was pushed out of bounds on a third-down play with 45 seconds left in the game and Auburn with no timeouts.
“I’m disappointed in myself because I could have done a better job of clocking the ball and staying down,” Gallman said. “I thought I had it up the sideline, and didn’t realize No. 6 (Carlton Davis) was going to be that fast. I thought I was going to have him with a step, but he pushed me a little hard.
“So that was my fault, and that’s a learning experience for me to get down when I need to get down.”
Gallman was right, it was a learning experience. It was a learning experience for him, Boulware and everyone on the team. The good news is they still found a way to win the game and they did it in a difficult place.
Three top 10 teams lost games away from their home stadium in Week 1. Clemson found away, despite it shortcomings, to win a game on the opponent’s home field in what is a tough venue to play in.
Playing at Georgia Tech on Sept. 22 will be difficult and then there is the huge matchup with the Seminoles on Oct. 29 in Tallahassee. Saturday’s experience, though not pretty, can go a long way in helping the Tigers win those two games.
“It was a great experience for us especially since we are going to have some tough road games down the road. To be able to have that under our belt as we continue to move through the season here is valuable,” said Swinney.