It was Tiger on Tiger action as Clemson took the win from an Auburn team desperately in need of some offensive tweaking. Ultimately, the Clemson Tigers took a successful step forward in their mission to return to the College Football Playoff by defeating the Auburn Tigers 19-13.
The plus side for Auburn, was an improved defensive display that showed the composure that was lacking last season and should be built-upon for the campaign ahead. Things looked good for Auburn, as they were marginally ahead in the second quarter and optimistic fans would have placed their free bets on their side to go on and take the win, in what was a very defensive game. Neither team were offering much offensively, until Deshaun Watson started picking holes in the Clemson Tigers’ defense. There is so much talk about Deshaun Watson being a Heisman winner or franchise quarterback and his decision-making and poise in this game will certainly add to the chatter already out there.
To impose their own offensive will, Head Coach Gus Malzahn tried a bizarre tactic of starting with Sean White at quarterback and then rolling the dice two plays later with both Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III on the field in wide receiver positions. Whatever Malzahn’s rationale for this selection, it did not serve his team well and he must accept a large chunk of responsibility for the loss.
Tale of the QBs
On the initial play of Auburn’s second drive, Franklin was up in the backfield as White handed the ball off to Chandler Cox. Franklin then took over at QB and accomplished his only pass of the half to Marcus Davis, in what was a disappointing all-round display. Johnson then had his opportunity behind center to start Auburn’s third drive, but was also thwarted and sacked on back-to-back plays. White then returned to behind the center on the next drive and ran for a loss of one, gain of seven and threw an incomplete pass to make it triple disappointment for Tiger’s fans.
Auburn’s three-way quarterback battle was won by White, but Malzahn did not decide till the very last minute and might still be harbouring doubts. The coach told reporters that Auburn formulated three different packages for each quarterback, which led to the constant rotating of three of them in and out. It was the hot topic of conversation after the loss and it seems likely we’ll see Malzahn constantly rotating again in the future.
Auburn could have taken this game, but simply didn’t have the firepower to keep up. White got the call at QB, but Franklin III is almost certainly the team’s most dangerous playmaker and might be more of a danger factor in matches with more consistent game time. The Auburn quarterbacks slotting in and out simply couldn’t outplay Watson, and the cool heads of Clemson prevailed to kill the clock and win the two Tiger’s match-up. Keeping thing positive, the defensive improvements Auburn showed against a well-heeled Clemson offense was an uplifting sign for the future and should be maintained for the visit of Arkansas State up next.