After one quarter on Saturday night, things looked bleak for Clemson’s offense.
Auburn owned the first 15 minutes, totaling 74 yards to Clemson’s 6, including a 10 minute and 24-second advantage in time of possession.
“We did not really get into any rhythm in the first quarter,” Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant said after No. 3 Clemson downed No. 13 Auburn, 14-6, in Death Valley. “Right before the half we needed a spark and we got it.”
But Clemson’s spark was not your typical run-of-the-mill big play or turnover that got things turned around. No, it was an injury to Bryant.
Midway through the second quarter, with Clemson totaling just 40 yards of offense at the time and one first time, Bryant got the breath knocked out of him when he took a shot while delivering a nine-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow.
Death Valley stood hushed as Bryant was attended to. Backup Zerrick Cooper came in and finished the drive before Greg Huegel missed on a 46-yard field goal.
When Clemson (2-0) got the ball back, Bryant trotted back on to the field, and he did so as if he was a new player. On the ensuing drive, the junior completed 6-of-8 passes for 79 yards, including 3-for-3 on third down as he led the Tigers on a 12-play, 88-yard drive he capped with a 3-yard touchdown run with 48 seconds left in the half.
“It was the spark we needed,” Bryant said.
Bryant followed up his 3-yard score with a 27-yard touchdown run to start the second half as Clemson stretched its lead to 14-6 with 11:48 to play in the third.
“The adversity Kelly faced … getting knocked down and then getting back up and wanting to play. That’s a great job, and that is the leader that he is,” wide receiver Hunter Renfrow said. “That is what we have seen in fall camp and since he has been at Clemson. He is a guy that is going to be knocked down and then gets back up and that’s what happened.”
Bryant finished the night completing 19-of-29 passes for 181 yards, while running for both Clemson touchdowns as he collected 59 yards on 19 carries.
“The last drive before the half was a thing of beauty,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We really hit our rhythm and got some tempo going. Then to come back out in third quarter and go right back down the field, that really was the difference in the game.
“Again, give Auburn credit. They are really good. They’re a legit top five defense, all day long. They challenged us and we need that. We are a new team. We have a lot of different pieces, but I love how they responded. They did not panic. I’m disappointed in the turnovers. We can’t put the ball on the ground. That’s a frustrating thing. That was really their only thing tonight with the way our defense was playing.”
Though Clemson’s offense was struggling to get anything going, the defense was dominating on the other side as it recorded a record-tying 11 sacks, while holding Auburn to 117 total yards.
“Those guys are nasty man,” Bryant said. “They are an experienced bunch and they can play their butts off. I love those guys and can’t think them enough for what they did.
“It was not pretty, but we knew when we had to have it, we made it happen.”
–Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports