"I think we had opportunities and we missed opportunities," said Brian VanGorder, Auburn's new defensive coordinator. "Clemson deserves credit. Their quarterback and running back were the superior players on the field tonight."
Ellington ran the football 26 times for 231 yards for Clemson. QB Tajh Boyd was even more impressive, hitting 24-34 passes for 208 yards and consistently escaping from pass rushes to net 58 yards on 19 carries.
VanGorder said Clemson did a good job running its fast-paced offense, but he said the biggest problem for the Auburn defense was its tackling. "It was poor," the coordinator said.
Defensive end Corey Lemonier made nine tackles with two sacks vs. Clemson.
Auburn's new offensive coordinator, Scot Loeffler, said, "We have got to coach better and improve, and we will. We just can't lose our edge on preparation. We have to keep improving."
Sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier made his first Auburn start. He hit 11-27 passes with one TD and one interception for 194 yards.
Loeffler said he saw some good things from the quarterback, but noted there is plenty of room for improvement. "There were some times we missed some guys and should made some plays, but that will come. At least he was going to the right spot with the ball. Now we need to make the play."
Auburn finished the game with 374 yards of total offense and struggled on third downs, converting just 4-13 while Clemson was better with 8-17.
Coach Gene Chizik's team had a chance to win the game until the final minutes. Clemson drove 79 yards on 11 plays to score on a field goal with 1:24 left, stretching the lead to seven.
With no timeouts left, Auburn managed one first down, but could only move its 25-yard to the 44 when time expired.
"Defensively, we had our chances," Chizik said. "They made their plays and we didn't. Offensively, we wanted to run the football. I think at times we were doing that fairly well.
"Overall, our guys were fighting down to the end was exactly what we expected them to do," Chizik added. "We are proud of them for doing that."
Chizik said the plus side of the game was that playing a talented opening day opponent will give the Tigers a good read on what they need to improve before opening SEC play. "We have a long way to go," the head coach said.
Clemson opened the scoring at the 5:22 mark of the first quarter with a 24-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro to cap a drive that reached the Auburn one on a fourth and goal. An illegal procedure penalty backed up Clemson to the six prompting the kick on its second possession of the evening.
Auburn responded quickly with Frazier's first college touchdown pass just four plays later. Finding Emory Blake uncovered behind the secondary, the 54-yard play put Auburn up 7-3. Blake led Auburn in receiving with four catches for 109 yards.
Emory Blake makes a touchdown catch.
Clemson's second field goal, a 40-yarder, cut Auburn's edge to one with 10:06 left in the second quarter following a fumble by Mason.
The ACC team took the lead less than three minutes later after Ellington broke a tackle attempt by Jake Holland and raced 68 yards. On the next play running back Roderick McDowell scored from seven yards out.
Clemson got the ball back with 1:24 left before intermission and got close enough for a 55-yard field goal that was wide left.
At halftime Clemson had run 48 plays, 21 more than Auburn, and had outgained Auburn 275-192 with 147 on 21 running plays. Auburn ran the ball 16 times for 78 yards in the first two quarters.
The second half was a field goal duel. Parkey hit two in the third quarter and one in the fourth. Clemson trumped that with one field goal in the third quarter, one in the fourth quarter and a four-yard TD pass by Hopkins with 9:17 left that put the ACC team up for good at 23-19.
Game One Key Statistic:Clemson's hurry-up offense kept the Auburn defense off-balance much of the game and allowed Clemson to finish the night with 87 offensive plays to 64 for Auburn.
Star Of the Game: Quarterback Boyd had a big game vs. Auburn last year and was the difference in the rematch on Saturday night.
Onterio McCalebb runs for Chizik's Tigers.
Quote Of Note: Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen: "It was good to know we could run the football with two freshmen and our new center Tunde (Fariyike) playing. I think we are going to keep building off that."
Quote Of Note, Part 2: Linebacker Daren Bates on what the Tigers need to do better next week: "Stopping the run. We need to get back to stopping the run and containing the key players."
Quote Of Note, Part 3: Tajh Boyd: "We showed people what kind of team we have. We have a special team."
Up Next: Auburn begins SEC play with a week two game at Mississippi State. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. CDT.