Though everyone else wondered if Clemson’s defense could continue to play at a high level despite losing so many players to the NFL from the previous two seasons, defensive lineman Christian Wilkins was not one of them.
“I had hundred percent confidences in what we could do,” the sophomore said. “At no point was I nervous, was I overwhelmed or was I thinking like, ‘Man, we are really outmatched.’ I knew what type of guys we have on defense and what type of work we have put in and prepared us for this.
“We may not get all the attention the offense gets, but we know what we are doing.”
Dabo Swinney knew it too. Earlier in the week, the Clemson coach said that Wilkins would play a major role in the outcomes of the game. He was right.
Wilkins was all over the field, while proving he could play both the inside defensive tackle position as well as on the outside at defensive end, where he started the game. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound sophomore was one of the main reasons why the Tigers held Auburn to 87 rushing yards in second-ranked Clemson’s 19-13 victory on Saturday night.
“Overall, our defense was tremendous,” Swinney said. “I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage. Those guys were disruptive. Christian Wilkins was the player of the game. I can’t say enough about him.”
Overall, Clemson had 13 tackles for loss, two sacks, forced a fumbled and picked off two passes. As for Wilkins, he had six tackles, a sack and two 2.5 tackles for loss and recovered the fumble.
“I’m happy we got the win, but I’m not happy with my overall performance,” the defensive lineman said. “I feel like I could have made a few more plays here and there. I know I made a lot of mistakes, but we were able to get the win. When I do correct those things I will be able to help the team out that much more.”
Clemson held Auburn to 262 total yards. Auburn had just 38 total yards in the first half. Four of their five opening possessions were three plays and out.
“I really feel like it was a team effort tonight. It was a good job by our defense,” Wilkins said. “We were tough tonight. We showed our guts, and that we were not afraid to compete.”
They showed their guts alright. Twice in the second half the Clemson defense stopped Auburn on fourth down plays inside the 10-yard line.
“It is all a part of coaching, the reps we get in practice, everything. We have been working hard all year,” Wilkins said. “We have just been able to reload. So I was happy with what we were able to do tonight.”
In the third quarter with Auburn facing fourth-and-one at the Clemson four-yard line, Johnson was smashed by linebacker Ben Boulware for a loss of one yard, who also stripped him of the ball, which Wilkins recovered.
In the fourth quarter, Auburn again drove the football deep into Clemson territory, but on fourth-and-goal from the eight, Sean White’s pass across the middle was intercepted by Boulware.
Safety Jadar Johnson also had an interception at the Clemson eight to stymie a third-quarter drive, and then the senior batted down two passes in the end zone on the last two plays to preserve the victory.
“It definitely feels good. It shows we have the potential to be a really good defense this year,” Wilkins said. “It is not easy coming to Auburn in the first game, in the SEC, on the road. Their fans are going crazy and everything so it was not easy and it was great we were able to do that.
“It just shows that when the offense plays to their potential and we play to our potential that it is going to be tough for other teams.”
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