For Clemson, getting to 1-0 was considerably more difficult than most thought it would be. A double-digit favorite heading to the Plains, Clemson had to knock down two Auburn Hail Mary attempts to preserve a 19-13 victory on Saturday night.
While getting a win on the road against an SEC team is always a good thing, there is plenty that Clemson has to clean up. Here are five thoughts now that Clemson is 1-0.
Mike Williams is Back
Any doubts as to whether or not Clemson’s star wide receiver is fully healthy following last year’s season-ending neck injury suffered in the opening game are gone. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder from Vance, S.C., caught nine passes for 174 yards. Quarterback Deshaun Watson targeted Williams early and often, renewing a connection that has been missing for nearly two years. The next step will be to keep Williams rolling while incorporating the other talented receivers who combined for just 10 catches and 74 yards on the night.
Yards Were Hard to Come By
Watson threw for 248 yards and Wayne Gallman ran for 123 more. But none of those came easy thanks to a rugged Auburn defense. Last year Clemson was second in the nation with 100 plays of 20 or more yards, an average of nearly seven per game. Against Auburn, Clemson had just three of those big chunk plays and the longest play from scrimmage was a 34-yard pass to Williams. The Tigers will have an opportunity to reignite their explosiveness as they play Troy and South Carolina State in the next two weeks.
Red Zone Defense
The Clemson defense also was very stingy, allowing just 262 total yards. But Clemson really clamped down on Auburn in the red zone. Late in the third quarter, Clemson stopped Auburn short on a fourth-and-one inside the five-yard line on a play where Christian Wilkins recovered a Jeremy Johnson fumble. In the fourth quarter, Clemson held Auburn to a field goal on one red zone possession and linebacker Ben Boulware intercepted a Sean White pass at the goal line on another. While Auburn did punch in a touchdown to make it a one score game with 3:22 left, the Clemson red zone defense came up huge in the victory.
The Dexter Lawrence Hype Was Real
Head coach Dabo Swinney has raved about Lawrence ever since the Wake Forest, N.C., product enrolled in January. There were flashes in the spring, but it’s hard to know exactly what a true freshman can do until the real games begin. Lawrence showed on Saturday night that he will be a force immediately. His stat line of seven total tackles (five solo) along with one tackle for lost yardage doesn’t begin to tell his impact on the game. The 6-foot-5, 340-pounder was disruptive the whole night and will be a focus of every opponent going forward.
It was the first game, so some issues are expected. What was not expected were two mental errors by Tiger veterans late in the game that allowed Auburn to hang around. On the late Auburn touchdown drive that cut the lead to six points, Clemson forced an incompletion on third and 10. But Boulware, a senior, hit the quarterback late, giving the other Tigers a first down. Auburn scored on the next play. Moments later, instead of going down in bounds to allow the clock to run, Gallman got close enough to the sidelines where he was forced out, stopping the clock. Because Auburn was out of timeouts, this mistake probably cost 30 seconds and gave Auburn a chance to get the ball back and move into Hail Mary territory. It was just the first game, but these are the types of mistakes that need to be cleaned up before facing Georgia Tech in the ACC opener on Sept. 22.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.