Sept. 3, 2016
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. - Gus Malzahn said his quarterback race was close all August, then showed just how close it was Saturday night.
Auburn got things together in the second half, threw into the end zone on the game's two final plays, but Clemson survived for a 19-13 win.
Sean White, Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III, quarterbacks all, took snaps; and running back Kerryon Johnson and even H-back Chandler Cox stepped through the revolving quarterback door as well. They set up Daniel Carlson field goals and a late Kerryon Johnson TD run. It wasn't enough despite a comeback second half. Clemson's high-powered offense did just enough aginst a tough-minded Auburn defense in front of a sold out Jordan-Hare Stadium on opening night.
"I'm very proud of the defense," Malzahn said. "There's not a whole lot of people holding that offense to 19 points.
"The positive thing is we played one of the best teams in college football, and we played them down to the end."
No. 2 Clemson came in with all the offensive fanfare, but Carlson's 32-yard field goal with 13:46 remaining cut Clemson lead to 13-6. Auburn then cut it to 19-13 with 3:22 left on a 9-yard Kerryon Johnson touchdown run.
Sean White's final two passes in the end zone were batted away in the final seconds.
A Deshaun Watson pass to Hunter Renfrow, who made a nothing-you-can-do-about-it great catch, made it 19-6 with 9:59 left. Clemson turned Auburn away on a fourth-down pass from the 8, before Johnson's touchdown run minutes later.
Auburn tried to catch Clemson off guard the whole game. Receiver Stanton Truitt got three quick carries. Sean White, Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III all threw a pass in the first quarter. Kerryon Johnson finally hit the half with 10 rushing yards, but, as a team, Auburn had just one.
The Tigers picked it up in the second half.
Johnson hit his first three passes and led Auburn to its first score, a Carlson 53-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. It was the sixth time that Carlson had blasted a field goal of at least 50 yards in his career, an Auburn record. Kevin Phillips also had a career-best 68-yard punt in the first half.
Auburn's defensive line held steady early and it took a fourth-down 1-yard run by Wayne Gallman to finally get Clemson a 7-3 lead with 7:34 left in the first quarter.
Auburn's defense turned away another scoring opportunity when Derrick Brown recovered a fumble caused by Darrell Williams. But Clemson tacked on a Greg Huegel field goal with 0:07 seconds left in the first half for a 10-3 lead.
Clemson scored first in the second half on a 40-yard field goal for a 10-point lead. Auburn was still hanging around, though, despite the fact Clemson has run 49 plays for 255 yards. Auburn had run 26 plays for 38 yards.
Auburn found its offense by mixing White, Johnson and Franklin, driving to the Clemson 5 late in the third quarter. But Johnson was stopped on fourth-and-2.
Check back for comments from Gus Malzahn and players.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine