"Welcome to 1988 - that's what it felt like tonight", head coach Dabo Swinney said. "They're defending national champions for a reason".
Alabama-like defensive pressure was the formula. Brent Venables' defense limited Auburn to just 117 total yards and collected 11 sacks. They held Auburn to two first-half field goals until the offense caught up. Right on Stove's heels, Carter leaped over his counterpart to deflect the pass, preventing at best a long completion - or at worst a touchdown and two-score Auburn lead. "It wasn't ideal, but we can build on it". "You need to be able to win in different ways". We had numerous chances toward the end, we just didn't respond. "It was a heck of a victory; give Auburn a lot of credit".
Clemson won the game against Auburn a year ago.
The difference this year is Clemson will have to learn if it can build toward matching last year's offensive fireworks.
In Johnson's absence, junior Kamryn Pettway received his first start of the 2017 season after missing the season opener due to a suspension for a violation of team rules. That turned out to be misleading.
His return was the grit that Swinney saw in his team. It was the moment Bryant declared himself, truly, the best guy to replace Watson at Clemson.
Instead, they should remember what happened next: With less than four minutes remaining in the half and down 6-0, Bryant completed 6 of 9 passes for 79 yards - including going 3 of 3 on third down - and ran in the go-ahead touchdown with 42 seconds remaining before halftime.
After taking over at their own 18-yard line, the Tigers ran the final 3:15 off the clock, securing the win and giving Swinney a fourth straight victory over an SEC opponent. Auburn's possessions following Clemson's fumble and punts looked like this: Turnover on downs (7 plays, 21 yards), punt (3 plays, 6 yards), punt (3 plays, -5 yards) punt (6 plays, 17 yards), punt (5 plays, -5 yards). Bryant also ran for 59 yards on 19 carries - scoring the game's only two touchdowns on the ground. That was enough to get by, thanks to the defense.
Clemson's defense repeatedly stiffened in the red zone, holding Auburn to zero yards on six plays inside the 10-yard line in the first half and forcing field goals in both instances. Jarrett Stidman completed 14 of 24 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns against an interception. Defensively, Auburn football yields 7.0 points and 78.0 total yards, 8.0 in passing and 70.0 in rushing per game. Auburn attempted to establish the 240-pound Montgomery native early and often as Pettway finished the contest with 74 yards on 22 carries.
Clemson sacked Stidham 11 times, recorded 14 tackles for loss and generally made gaining positive yards by air or by land a more hard task for the former five-star recruit than Auburn coaches ever thought it would be when they landed him on the transfer market previous year. They won the ACC with their lone loss in conference play to the Pittsburgh Panthers.