Clemson Finally Woke Up, Auburn’s Offense Never Did

Lyn Scarbrough

September 11, 2017 at 12:17 am.

Sep 9, 2017; Clemson, SC, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) tries to avoid the sack by Clemson Tigers linebacker Tre Lamar (57) during the third quarter at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 9, 2017; Clemson, SC, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) tries to avoid the sack by Clemson Tigers linebacker Tre Lamar (57) during the third quarter at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Back in July, the Clemson football team hired someone to help it stay asleep.

Rise Science, a Chicago-based sleep coaching program, was contracted to help Tiger players improve their sleep by helping them recover from workouts.

“The program helps them improve sleep discipline and increase overall sleep time,” director of strength and conditioning Joey Batson explained via, “which we know will translate to better performance on and off the field.”

For most of the first half in Death Valley on Saturday night, it looked like Rise Science had done its job too well. Penalties, a turnover and several Auburn big plays led to a 6-0 deficit with just minutes left before intermission. Then, the Clemson team woke up.

Auburn’s offense never did.

A touchdown on the last drive of the first half and another on the first drive of the second half were the only touchdowns for Clemson, but they were enough for a 14-6 win over the visiting Tigers.

For Clemson, it was a dominating defense, an adequate offense and an indication that the defending national champions should still be included in that conversation this season.

For Auburn, it was much too familiar. A defense good enough to win. A kicking game good enough to win. And an offense not good enough to even get a first down when it counted against a national caliber opponent.

Ironically, the first college game that I covered from a press box was at Clemson 50 seasons ago, when Auburn won, 21-10, in Death Valley in 1968. Since then, I’ve attended well over 500 Auburn games, including being in the press box again on Saturday night.

Not sure that I’ve ever seen a more inept offensive performance in those five decades than the one from Auburn on Saturday. It was definitely the worst offense ever from a team with this much talent on the roster. There were some sleepwalkers for sure, but they were playing for the visiting team and for them, it had to seem like a really bad dream.

Remember that Heisman Trophy discussion for Tiger quarterback Jarrett Stidham? That memory is a bad dream now, too.

First, take a look at Clemson.

When the Tigers lost the nation’s best quarterback, Deshaun Watson, after last season, fans were concerned about his replacement. No need to worry. Kelly Bryant, starting only his second game, passed for 181 yards and ran for 59, including both touchdowns. He’s no Watson … yet … but he’s good enough already to win against quality opponents.

The receivers can make big receptions … and then there’s Hunter Renfrow. The undersized former walk-on, the one that caught 10 balls for 92 yards and the winning touchdown against Alabama last season, had nine more catches against Auburn, including several key grabs.

Defensively, the Tigers have the top defensive line in college football. Both starting tackles, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, are All-Americans, and few defensive ends are better than Austin Bryant, who had four sacks among his seven tackles.
Clemson’s defensive backs are outstanding, as shown against the visiting Tigers. Auburn receivers could seldom get separation and when there was a reception or an open field ball carrier, tackles were hard and sure.

It won’t be an easy road for the defending champions. Things get even harder next week as they travel to Louisville to face quarterback Lamar Jackson, the elusive signal caller who edged out Watson last year for the Heisman Trophy. Two weeks later they play at nationally ranked Virginia Tech. On November 11, Clemson hosts Florida State, then on Thanksgiving weekend go to Columbia to face surprising and dangerous in-state rival South Carolina.

Clemson could win all of those. They could also lose them all, but based on the performance Saturday night, that’s not likely. The truth is probably somewhere in between with a lean going toward the 2016 champs in any that are close.

Next, take a look at Auburn.

You can’t blame what happened on the defense. Tiger defenders forced two turnovers, sacked Bryant four times and held Clemson to two scores. The defending champions had just 284 yards total offense, only the second time to be held under 400 yards in the past 17 games. The other time … Auburn last season. Clemson was also held under 20 points for only the second time in the past 17 games … also Auburn last season. That should be good enough to win against almost anybody, especially the national champions on the road.

But, offensively, it was an all-time debacle. In the second half, Auburn gained just 15 yards. The total yardage for the game (117) was the lowest ever by a Gus Malzahn coached team.

Stidham, the Baylor transfer who had been one of the odds-on favorites for Heisman Trophy consideration, was sacked 11 times, but many of those weren’t the fault of the offensive line. For sure the up-front guys didn’t play well, but just as important, Auburn receivers couldn’t get open and the quarterback often held the ball too long.

As the game went on, it seemed like I was watching former Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle, who was sacked 11 times by Auburn defenders in 2005. Look out for the bumper stickers … “Honk, if you’ve sacked Stidham!”

Remember that last season, Jackson of Louisville was sacked 11 times when the Cardinals were routed by Houston, then a few weeks later he won the Heisman Trophy. Don’t expect that to happen now.

Remember that quarterback Pat Sullivan’s first road game for Auburn was a 45-19 loss in Knoxville and we know what happened after that. That’s not likely to happen this time, either.

In fairness, Auburn was playing without injured running back Kerryon Johnson, who would have added an outside speed dimension and the wildcat threat. And, it played without suspended veteran quarterback Sean White, who likely would have seen significant time on the field in the second half. Those were significant factors.

But, if Tiger receivers can’t be more effective, offensive linemen can’t be more consistent and Stidham can’t make better decisions with the ball, it will be a disappointing season after high expectations regardless of who is playing.

It won’t be an easy road for Auburn. Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss should be wins, but are dangerous games. There are three consecutive road games against SEC Western Division teams … LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M … without a home game in between. (Who in the world thought that was a good idea!) Then, Georgia and Alabama are on the November schedule.

If Auburn’s offense is as anemic as it was at Clemson, they could lose all of those. They also have enough talent to win them all, including against the Eastern Division favorite Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Auburn could still have an outstanding season despite what happened at Clemson.

But if things don’t improve quickly on offense, the lean won’t go toward Auburn in any that are close. And, its fans might be calling Rise Science for help in sleeping through the nightmare that the 2017 season could become.