Clemson notes: Clemson defense as advertised
CLEMSON — Two of the nation’s most talented defensive coordinators squared off Saturday night, each of them tasked with drawing up respective game plans for new-look opposing offenses.
It was Kevin Steele’s job to figure out Kelly Bryant and Clemson’s offense. It was Brent Venables’ duty to give his unit a working blueprint despite Auburn having a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback and a new-to-Clemson running back who was a nonfactor in the two teams’ showdown a season ago.
Venables pulled through in a major way. In No. 3 Clemson’s 14-6 win over No. 13 Auburn at Memorial Stadium, Clemson’s defense showed up on boldly all night long, giving the sometimes-struggling offense some wiggle room as the night unfolded.
Auburn marched down to the 1-yard line in its opening play behind new quarterback Jarrett Stidham, yet was stuffed at the goal line on third down and instead had to settle for a field goal. The SEC Tigers, who led 6-0 minutes into the second quarter, ran six plays all inside Clemson’s 10-yard line throughout the first half, yet picked up zero yards. They never scored again after the field goals, never converting on a touchdown.
Clemson sacked Stidham a whopping 11 times, its highest output since 2004 as Austin Bryant led the charge with four. The defense racked up 14 tackles for loss. Dorian O’Daniel had a new career-high 14 tackles and J.D. Davis picked up his first career sack. Under a microscope as the outside world studies the Clemson defense to see if it will live up to its hype, Venables and Co. proved to be as advertised Saturday night.
Big night for Pettway
Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey told reporters earlier this week he thought running back Kamryn Pettway would be “anxious” when it came time for kickoff.
Pettway was suspended for Auburn’s first game against Georgia Southern and he had zero carries this time last year when Clemson and Auburn matched up in an Auburn loss before he became the SEC’s leading rusher. Saturday he redeemed himself. By the end of the first half, Pettway had 16 carries already for 59 yards, good for nearly 60 percent of Auburn’s total offense.
Despite reports he might not play due to an injury, Auburn used Pettway like a workhorse early. He finished the night with 74 yards on 22 carries.
Faces in the crowd
Clemson was chock-full of familiar faces in town for Saturday night’s showdown.
The nation’s No. 2 and 3 ranked recruits for the class of 2018, quarterback Trevor Lawrence and defensive end Xavier Thomas, were both on hand, as was Zion Williamson — the Spartanburg native who is the nation’s No. 2 basketball recruit. Also in attendance was Clemson basketball alum Jaron Blossomgame, who is now with the San Antonio Spurs.
Junior safety Van Smith, who sprained his knee and was held out of the second half of Clemson’s game against Kent State, was dressed in sweats and did not play. Swinney had dubbed him “questionable” earlier in the week. In his place was sophomore K’Von Wallace. Cornerback Marcus Edmond was injured in the opening three minutes of the game, hobbling off the field with 12:39 remaining in the first quarter. Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson did not dress out as he is still recovering from an injured hamstring.