In Auburn's 26-19 loss to Clemson to open the 2012 season, VanGorder's defense gave up 528 yards to the defending ACC champion.
"Their quarterback and running back were the superior players on the field," said VanGorder, who noted those Clemson Tigers were worthy of praise for their performances.
Running back Andre Ellington racked up 231 yards on 26 carries vs. Auburn, including a 68-yard run in the third quarter that started with the tailback being tackled by linebacker Jake Holland near the line of scrimmage. However, Ellington found a way to re-gain his balance before his knee touched the artificial turf and kept on running for Clemson's biggest play of the game.
"A lot of our issues were on the perimeter," VanGorder noted. "There was a big, long run, stretch play outside that we fit it right, we're right there, we sling the guy on the ground and he stays up and goes for a long run."
Quarterback Tahj Boyd brought a dual-threat attack into the Georgia Dome that Auburn was unable to consistently contain. Completing 24-34 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown, Boyd also recorded 58 net yards on 19 carries while effectively running Clemson's fast-paced offense.
"The pace of their offense is tough," VanGorder said after coaching the Tigers at the Georgia Dome, where last season he was doing the same thing with NFL players. "As coaches and players, we didn't handle it as well as we anticipated. We've got to do a better job and get better.
"They prevent you from subbing at times, but I don't think overall it was a matter of substitution problems," the coach added. "We ended up defending 87 plays--that's a lot of football plays in a game. There's going to be some fatigue."
VanGorder added the pace of Clemson's offense had Auburn's defense off balance with alignment and assignments at times. He said the communication was not as good as it needed to be and blamed that on the coaching staff.
"I liked his leadership," VanGorder said about Bates. "He fought through some stringers and things physically. It's a good sign and a good thing for guys to see from a senior leader."
The defensive coordinator said hard work is the prescription to fix what ails the Tigers as they prepare for their SEC opener at Mississippi State on Saturday.
"There are no shortcuts, it's hard work," he said. "We'll evaluate this thoroughly, evaluate everything we did from a decision standpoint. My goal from the beginning has been to get better through this season. We know some of the issues, but we've got to keep emphasizing it and hammering it."