Clemson running back Wayne Gallman was one of the biggest reasons Clemson escaped Jordan-Hare Stadium with a 19-13 win against Auburn on Saturday night.
But Gallman could have been, and was close to being, one of the biggest reasons Clemson lost.
On a night when Clemson’s offense wasn’t clicking, Gallman’s big performance was essential. The redshirt junior rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, accounting for a large portion of Clemson’s 399 yards of total offense.
However, his second-to-last carry of the night was costly. With 50 seconds remaining in the contest and Clemson up by six points, Gallman ran right tackle, but didn’t stay in bounds. Instead of going down when he got near the sideline in order to run off 40 more seconds of clock — Auburn was without a timeout — Gallman was pushed out of bounds.
If Gallman had stayed in bounds, there would have been just 10 seconds remaining when Clemson snapped the next play, and Clemson would have been able to run out the final seconds. But after Gallman was forced out, Clemson decided to go for it on fourth down. After Clemson didn’t convert, Auburn took over with 40 seconds left, drove down the field and nearly won on a last-second Hail Mary attempt.
Following the game, Gallman took full responsibility for his mental error.
“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.”
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott accepted blame for the blunder, too.
“It starts in my room. I have to do a better job with Wayne there at the end because we put our defense in a bind,” Elliott said. “I’m just disappointed that my guy at my position in that situation put the defense in a bind by not getting down.”
Still, Elliott expects a veteran leader like Gallman to be aware of the circumstances and make the right play.
“You would expect him to know,” Elliott said. “It was an off-tackle play. He admitted he saw the sticks and was going for the sticks, trying to get the first down because he felt like if we had gotten the first down, we would have won the game.”
When it was all said and done, the good Gallman did in the game outweighed the misstep.
With Clemson down 3-0 at the end of the first quarter, it was Gallman who scored Clemson’s first touchdown of the game early in the second quarter to give the ACC’s Tigers a lead it would not relinquish.
On the same possession that he ran out of bounds, Gallman also broke off his longest run of the game, a 20-yard burst for a first down that made Auburn burn a precious timeout.
The Auburn game marked the 13th time in Gallman’s career that he rushed for 100 or more yards.
Clemson is 13-0 in those games, though it was almost 12-1.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said he was frustrated with Gallman’s lapse in the final moments, but feels fortunate to have won the game and knows the mistake presents a teaching opportunity moving forward.
“We weren’t as intelligent as we’ve got to be to be a great football team, but we were good enough to get to 1-0,” Swinney said. “Now it’s all about learning, growing from this and improving our team.”