Clemson - Auburn
Give this crucial win to Dabo Swinney. And not just because he's the Clemson head coach.
Swinney deserves a hearty slap on the back for snapping Auburn's 17-game winning streak because he's the guy who hired offensive coordinator Chad Morris at the conclusion of last season. It's Morris' up-tempo system which has begun to bring out the best in the Tigers program. Clemson has always had great athletes, but the production hasn't been there the past few seasons. An inventive, diverse and unpredictable plan of attack is just what the school needed to maximize the skills of young players, like QB Tajh Boyd, backs D.J. Howard and Mike Bellamy and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. Clemson has never had much of a problem attracting exciting weapons to its campus. With Morris calling plays, it finally knows what to do with that incendiary artillery.
As far as Auburn goes, it had to end at some point, right? I'll admit that I was waiting for the frenetic come-from-behind fourth quarter win, even after Clemson's lead bulged to double-digits. Not this time. Now, Gene Chizik and his staff can go about the business of building back up the defending national champs with a little less glare from the spotlight. The Tigers are about to drift a little south of the radar compared to the past year, a development the staff is going to learn to appreciate.
By Matt Zemek
I was personally quite adamant in saying that Auburn would win this game. I found it hard to see how Clemson, one of the most underachieving programs in the United States – an outfit with a formidable aversion to the brass ring – was going to get off the deck and display more mental toughness than an Auburn squad that gutted out two "champion's wins" in its first two games. Yes, Cam Newton and Nick Fairley were gone, but when the (SEC) Tigers managed to run their record to 2-0 despite being outplayed (by Utah State) and stomach punched (by a big first-half scoring run from Mississippi State), it was impossible to escape the idea that Auburn owned a copious quantity of belief, that special tonic which matters a lot in college sports. When Auburn rolled to a 21-7 lead in the first half of this clash in Death Valley, few pigskin pundits could have imagined that those other (ACC) Tigers were going to produce a worthy answer.
Clemson, to its everlasting credit, proved America wrong. Clemson stopped being Clemson.
Sure, you can say – with a considerable amount of credibility and accuracy – that Auburn's defense wasn't great shakes last season. Of course Auburn wasn't a complete three-phase team in 2010. Yes, you can say that Cam Newton would have made more plays in the final 20 minutes of regulation. However, this game was going to be a test of Clemson and its ability to expose Auburn's defensive vulnerabilities. Clemson was a train wreck last year, and the boys from the ACC have usually found ways to muck up a good situation in some form or fashion.
Not this day. Not this time. Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd answered the bell. They continued to perform at an elite level. Clemson and its offensive braintrust remained aggressive and did not give Auburn's defense a chance to breathe. Auburn's offense faltered in the second half, but if Clemson had not rallied from a 14-point first half deficit, the defending national champions would have been able to play at a preferred tempo and manage the game in a different manner.
The fact of the matter is that Auburn hadn't lost a game since November of 2009, and Clemson was the team that put an end to the Plainsmen's streak. Clemson has slipped on so many banana peels over the years. On Saturday, the athletes in orange jerseys decided to author a different story. This game should be viewed as a Clemson win far more than an Auburn loss.
By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee
Until Saturday afternoon, Auburn hadn't lost a football game since the day that the Tiger Woods sex scandal broke. Think about that.
If Auburn is going to blame any one person, defensive coordinator Ted Roof is the obvious choice.
The stats don't lie, Auburn's defense was atrocious on Saturday afternoon. A lot will be made about Auburn's inability to stop Clemson on third down; and rightfully so - 14-for-18 is unacceptable at any level. But it was much, much worse than that.
Auburn simply couldn't tackle Clemson. That's not something that can be written off as a fluke. That's just bad coaching, and Ted Roof is to blame. Rarely, if ever, on Saturday afternoon did the first person to touch the Clemson ball carrier actually make the tackle. Bad tackling is an epidemic in every level of football, but Auburn's performance vs. Clemson may have been the worst display yet.
For Clemson, the future appears to be now. Sammy Watkins and Mike Bellamy - two freshmen - appear to be the future of the program, and the future is now. Despite all of the youth on the roster, Clemson will be squarely in the mix for the ACC Championship. Not bad for Dabo Swinney's group.
Auburn and Clemson will meet in Atlanta to open the 2012 season in one of two games in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic. Considering the talented youngsters on both rosters, that'll be a good one.
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter @russmitchellcfb