Auburn’s offensive line couldn’t hold the weight of Death Valley Saturday night.
No. 3 Clemson had 11 sacks on quarterback Jarrett Stidham in their 14-6 win over No. 13 Auburn, their most in a single game since 2004. Auburn’s 117 yards is the worst single-game performance in head coach Gus Malzahn’s career. Three of his worst four team outputs, however, have happened in the last five games.
“Tonight, we had too many negative plays,” he said. “We didn’t protect the quarterback when we needed to and weren’t able to effectively run the football.”
Stidham went 13-of-24 for 79 yards and totaled negative 42 rushing yards. Kamryn Pettway, who made his season debut after returning from injury, totaled 74 rushing yards on 22 attempts. 53 of those yards came in the first quarter.
“We didn’t move the ball very well,” Stidham said. “We’re going to regroup, and we’re going to be a better offense.”
When asked about his confidence about Auburn’s offensive improvement, he replied with a quick “110 percent.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to get this fixed,” he said.
Up to the end of the first half, Auburn appeared to be favored with a defense prowess that paralleled the Georgia Southern victory. Daniel Carlson connected on a 24-yard field goal on the game’s first possession to take an early 3-0 lead. He later had a 28-yard kick in the second quarter for a 6-0 lead and Auburn’s final points.
Kelly Bryant, Clemson’s starting quarterback, left the field injured after a hit from Auburn defensive tackle Dontavius Russell. He later returned to end the second quarter with a three-yard rushing touchdown, leading Clemson on a 12-play, 88-yard drive that inevitably sealed the game
Bryant would return to the second half with momentum on his side, leading Clemson to their final touchdown on the night with an eight-play, 79-yard drive. He capitalized on holes in Auburn’s defense, spinning away from defenders for a 27-yard touchdown.
The receiving corps for Auburn could not make a dent in the Clemson secondary despite two early pass interference calls. Ryan Davis had eight receptions for 32 yards while Will Hastings had two receptions for 12 yards. Nate Craig-Myers had just a single reception, and target, for 23 yards. That reception, unfortunately, came on Auburn’s first possession.
“Nate is going to be fine,” Malzahn said. “Nate is a good player. We’ve got to find ways to get our best guys the ball.”
An eternity of three-and-outs would ensue following Clemson’s opening score in the third, and Auburn had opportunities -- even up to the last few minutes -- to tie the game. Stidham, who hit the ground plenty, consistently struggled to move his offense beyond the line of scrimmage.
“I don’t think it was frustrating at all,” he said. “[Clemson] played their butts off just like everybody else. We just didn’t execute.”
Defensively, Auburn maintained control and momentum throughout as Carlton Davis led the away Tigers with 11 tackles. Deshaun Davis had a notable two-yard sack that led to an eventual third-and-21 for Clemson, pushing them away from field goal range and keeping Auburn alive.
The eight-point lead that Clemson held appeared to be more than it actually was, Malzahn said, and the offense did not pair in dominance.
As for an offensive identity that appears nonexistent, Malzahn looks forward to developing as the season goes on.
“After a game like this when you don’t play well, I mean, we’ll go back and we’ll look. We’re going to be a good offense before it’s all said and done, I promise you that.”