Everybody wondered if Clemson would miss Deshuan Watson at quarterback and all those leaders on defense while they defended their national title. It’s only Week 2 of the season but it appears nobody is wondering about that anymore.
Kelly Bryant quieted the critics and helped win the battle of the Tigers on Saturday night as No. 3 Clemson held on to a 14-6 win in Death Valley over No. 13 Auburn in a game that was as physical as they come between two of the better defenses in the country.
Bryant was knocked out briefly in the second quarter after taking a big hit but later returned on fire, leading the Tigers to the game’s first touchdown on a three yard keeper. He added another on the ground from 27 yards out early in the third quarter to provide the final margin and finished the night with 249 of the team’s 283 yards.
As impressive as he was in the face of a constant pass rush though, his teammates on the defensive side of the ball looked even better. All told, Brent Venables‘ unit recorded 11 — count ’em, 11 — sacks on the night and held the Tigers from the SEC to just 117 yards. Whether you were a defensive end or a linebacker coming off a blitz, it was certainly quite the party in the backfield against an offensive line that was expected to be quite solid this year.
Those struggles up front were one reason why Auburn failed to get much of anything after the first quarter. Kamryn Pettway rushed for 74 yards on 22 carries and each one of them was hard-fought. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham was on the run all night long but still had a few moments and finished with 79 yards passing to barely even out the 42 he lost in sack yardage.
These two played a close, defensive battle last year that Clemson managed to sneak out with a win on their way to a national title. Could history repeat itself? Based on the way Bryant and his team played on Saturday night at home, the answer is pointing more and more to yes.