Sean White (above) started at quarterback, but shared the duties with his teammates.
Auburn, Ala.--Coach Gus Malzahn’s plan to play musical chairs with his quarterbacks failed to produce the desired result as his team wasted a strong defensive performance and a chance to upset No. 2 ranked Clemson on Saturday night.
It wasn’t a surprise that Auburn dropped its football season opener, falling 19-13 to a favored Clemson team, but how it happened was more than a little bit unusual as a sellout crowd watched the action at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Malzahn’s plan to freely substitute quarterbacks in and out of the game based on what play the Tigers were planning to run provided unimpressive results.
Auburn managed just 87 rushing yards on 41 carries and completed 15-30 passes for 175 yards, but both starter Sean White and backup Jeremy Johnson ended scoring threats with intercepted passes thrown deep in Clemson territory. John Franklin also lined up at quarterback, but threw just one pass and did not run the football.
For the game Auburn converted just 3-17 third down opportunities and averaged just 3.7 yards per play.
Despite Auburn’s obvious offensive shortcomings, the Tigers still had a chance to win the game on their final possession. However, two passes by White into the end zone were incomplete and then time ran out for the home team.
“We went into this thing knowing we were going to play all three (quarterbacks),” Malzahn said. “All three had packages and that was our plan and that was what we went with. At times it worked well, at times we struggled.”
The times the quarterbacks struggled outweighed the times when it was effectve in game one.
Asked if the Tigers will play three quarterbacks after what happened on Saturday night, Malzahn said, “We may continue to do that. We will see how each game goes and we will see how everything turns out.”
A pair of junior safeties led Auburn in tackles. Nick Ruffin finished with seven solos and three assists while Tray Matthews added eight solo tackles plus one assist.
“Hats off to them,” Ruffin said. “Obviously, they are a great team and Deshaun Watson is a great quarterback, but there are some things we as a defense need to clean up in order to perfect our craft and go forward and have a better season.”
Clemson finished the game with 151 rushing yards on 44 carries and Watson hit 19-34 passes for 248 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“I am very proud of our defense,” Malzahn said. “Holding those guys to 19 points I thought was really unbelievable as far as the effort and everything was concerned.
“Offensively, obviously in the first half it was a big struggle,”?he said. “In the second half we started moving the football. The biggest issue was the two times in the red zone when we didn’t score.”
Auburn defensive tackle Dontavius Russell (95) is shown in action on Saturday night.
After a scoreless first quarter Auburn scored its first points of the season on a 53-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson with 12:58 to play before halftime to finish a drive that covered 44 yards on 12 plays.
Clemson responded by holding the football for 13 plays and moving 84 yards. On fourth and goal at the one, Wayne Gallman ran had a big hole at right guard to score to put the visitors up 7-3. He led all rushers with 123 yards on 30 carries.
With the help of a questionable pass interference call that set up a Greg Huegel field goal, Clemson led 10-3 at intermission.
Halftime Numbers: Auburn was out-gained 148-37 and the home team netted just one rushing yard on 16 attempts. Clemson rushed for 85 yards on 24 carries and hit 11-19 passes for 148 yards while AU hit 5-7 passes for 37 yards. Clemson had the only turnover on a fumble recovered by AU freshman defensive Derrick Brown. Clemson held the ball for 17:55 in the first half to 12:05 for Auburn.
Clemson scored on its first possession of the third quarter by taking advantage of great field position when Auburn started its possession at the five-yard line after a block in the back on the kickoff. Huegel’s 40-yard field goal made the score 13-3 at the 10:36 mark.
Auburn made it a one score game again at the 13:46 mark of the fourth quarter when Carlson hit a 32-yard field goal, but Clemson responded with what proved to be the game-winning drive. The visitors moved the ball 75 yards on 10 plays. Hunter Renfrow, who caught a perfectly thrown pass from his quarterback who was able to get the ball off before the blitz could get to him, scored the touchdown for the visitors. Clemson then missed the PAT to lead 19-6.
Auburn scored its only touchdown at the 3:22 mark on a nine-yard run around right end by Kerryon Johnson, who led AU in rushing with 94 yards on 23 carries.
After that score Auburn’s defense needed an immediate stop, but Clemson managed a pair of first downs before Auburn got the ball back at its own 15-yard line with 40 seconds and no timeouts left.
White hit passes of eight yards to Stanton Truitt, 16 to Tony Stevens and 21 to Marcus Davis to move to the Clemson 40-yard line. From there the sophomore got two chances to throw into the end zone before the clock hit 0:00.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Including Chandler Cox and Johnson, five different Tigers lined up at quarterback for the home team.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Freshman defensive tackle Derrick Brown recovered a fumble in his first college game for AU.
Up Next: Auburn is back at home next Saturday to take on Arkansas State.