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Instant Replay: No. 3 Clemson 14, No. 13 Auburn 6

No. 3 Clemson defeated No. 13 Auburn, 14-6, on Saturday night in Death Valley. The ACC’s Tigers improved to 2-0 on the season, while the SEC’s Tigers dropped to 1-1. Here is a look back at how Clemson earned the victory:

What happened?

Clemson came away from a defensive struggle triumphant thanks to its stingy defense and a pair of touchdown runs by starting quarterback Kelly Bryant.

Clemson was outgained 89 yards to 6 in the opening quarter, yet trailed just 6-0 with 14:17 left in the first half. Auburn used a 15-play, 69-yard drive on the game’s opening possession that took 7:47 off the clock and ended with a 24-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson. Following a turnover by Clemson near its own end zone, Carlson kicked another field goal, a 28-yarder, to give Auburn a 6-0 lead at the 14:17 mark of the second quarter.

Bryant and Clemson answered Carlson’s second field goal by marching down the field on a 12-play, 88-yard touchdown drive. A 3-yard touchdown run by Bryant with 48 seconds left before halftime gave Clemson a 7-6 lead.

Bryant scored another touchdown on a 27-yard run on Clemson’s opening drive of the second half, and Clemson’s defense did the rest to close out the win.

Bryant finished the game 19-of-29 passing for 181 yards while rushing for 59 yards and the two touchdowns on 19 carries. Ray-Ray McCloud paced Clemson’s receiving corps with six catches for 81 yards.

What went right?

Clemson’s defense was right all night, especially the front seven. The Tigers recorded 11 sacks, their most in a game since 2004, and had 14 tackles for loss. Clemson’s swarming defense suffocated Auburn all night, allowing only 117 total yards, including just 38 rushing yards on 42 attempts against. Auburn averaged only 1.8 yards per play.

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, whose name has been mentioned in way-too-early Heisman conversations, finished the game with negative-42 rushing yards thanks to the sacks that took away from his total. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 79 yards.

Linebacker Dorian O’Daniel led Clemson’s defense with 14 tackles, including 2 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins posted 10 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks, while defensive end Austin Bryant logged four tackles for loss and four sacks.

Clemson gave up more yards of total offense to Kent State (120) in the season opener last weekend than it did against Auburn.

What went wrong?

Clemson turned the ball over two times, both of which were fumbles at untimely moments. On the first occasion, with Clemson backed up at its own 10-yard line late in the first quarter, McCloud coughed up the ball after catching a pass from Bryant. Auburn took over at Clemson’s 11-yard line and was positioned to take a two-score lead, but the Tigers’ staunch defense forced Auburn to settle for a field goal that made the score 6-0 at the time.

In the second half, a fumble by C.J. Fuller prevented Clemson from potentially taking control of the game. Ahead by a score of 14-6 following Bryant’s touchdown run on the opening drive of the third quarter, Clemson drove to Auburn’s 29-yard line on the ensuing possession before Fuller’s mistake ended the scoring threat.

Also, Clemson suffered through a slow start to begin the game. The Tigers totaled only 40 yards over the first 20 minutes of the game and finished with 283 of offense. The slow start was mitigated by Clemson’s defense, which limited Auburn to just a couple of field goals in the first half.

Game-changing moment?

Bryant’s resiliency and response to adversity changed the complexion of the game. After being knocked out of the contest midway through the second quarter with what looked like a shoulder injury, Bryant came back in on the next drive and led the Tigers down the field for a touchdown that gave them a 7-6 lead entering halftime. Bryant capped a 12-play, 88-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run with just 48 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The junior went 6-of-8 for 79 yards on the drive, including a 20-yard pass to Deon Cain on third-and-2 from his own 20. Later in the drive, facing a third-and-10, Bryant hit McCloud for a 29-yard gain on a perfect over-the-shoulder catch to the Auburn 9. He also hit Hunter Renfrow on a third-and-4 pass earlier to keep the drive going. It was certainly a gutsy effort by Bryant, who passed his first true test as Clemson’s successor to Deshaun Watson.

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