Deshaun Watson’s Heisman Trophy campaign didn’t get off to the fast start he was likely hoping for but the Clemson quarterback probably doesn’t mind escaping Auburn with a 19-13 on Saturday night.
The victory by the Tigers (ACC edition) answered plenty of questions about the No. 2 team in the country and, perhaps more interestingly, gave us insight into just what kind of year the Tigers (SEC edition) face as the 2016 season gets underway.
There were not a ton of question marks about Clemson after all. But for everybody who wondered if Dabo Swinney and coordinator Brent Venables could reload on defense for the third year in a row, it appears the answer is a resounding yes. The Tigers were swarming from start to finish at Jordan-Hare Stadium, limiting Auburn to 262 yards of offense and forcing three turnovers.
Even more impressive was the emergence of Mike Williams. The wideout was injured in the team’s opener last year and missed the entire 2015 campaign as a result. He didn’t show any signs of rust though, ending the game as Watson’s favorite target with nine catches for 174 yards and making life miserable for Auburn defensive backs on every snap.
The feel good story of Week 1 helped the offense survive some rough patches against a fairly fast SEC defense, including turning the ball over twice and getting bogged down several times when entering Auburn territory. Still, the addition of Williams to go along with Watson and tailback Wayne Gallman (123 yards and a touchdown) gives Clemson perhaps the best trio in the country on offense.
While Auburn struggled on offense all night — using three different quarterbacks — the Tigers’ defense kept them in the game under the first outing with new coordinator Kevin Steele. The offense will be what keeps head coach Gus Malzahn, firmly on the hot seat on the Plains, up at night though.
Speaking of answers, the home team bizarrely had a chance to win the game at the end thanks to a miscue by Swinney. With just 47 seconds left on the clock, Clemson opted to go for it on 4th and 4 instead of attempting a field goal from the Auburn 17 yard line. Gallman failed to pick up the first down and the team promptly turned the ball over on downs.
Auburn got as close as the 40 yard line before Sean White launched a pair of Hail Marys into the end zone. Clemson knocked both down but it was certainly a nervous ending for both teams after such a tense — and at times inexplicable — game.