Tigers more than just the Sammy show

Clemson won a big football game Saturday night at the Georgia Dome. An important game. A game that can give it some momentum heading into the next few weeks.

The dome rocked Saturday with a terrific atmosphere as Clemson's fans had plenty to celebrate with the Tigers' thrilling and tense 26-19 win over Auburn.

There were many heroes for Clemson on Saturday, but it wasn't a perfect game, by any means. There were things that will need to be worked on for sure, but it's always better for players and coaches to work on mistakes after a win.

NO LOVE FOR NUK: Sammy Watkins has gotten a ton of publicity after his super freshman season with the Tigers and rightfully so. But because of that, DeAndre Hopkins gets overlooked sometimes.

His performance Saturday should help with that. While the receiving corps struggled with drops (more on that in a bit), Hopkins was dynamic, and he really stepped up when Clemson needed him as it played without Watkins.

Hopkins had 13 catches for 119 yards, and he made a terrific catch on a difficult play for a touchdown and a 23-19 lead with 9:17 to play. It's the kind of game Watkins had a couple of times last year, but it's something Hopkins can do, as well. Think about that for a second and realize what Hopkins and Watkins can do when Watkins returns.

That has to be scary for defensive coordinators Clemson will face after next week when Watkins is back in the lineup.

ANDRE THE GREAT: Since he arrived at Clemson, Andre Ellington has been on the cusp of greatness. After playing behind C.J. Spiller his first year, and doing well in that role, Ellington has been a wonderful running back for the Tigers.

His only problem has been injuries, but when he is healthy, he is someone the team can ride to victories.

Ellington showed that again Saturday night. He had 26 carries for 231 yards and seemed to get stronger as the game went along. Ellington had several highlight runs, including a 68-yarder when he just refused to go down and then another long one on the Tigers' final drive that helped them seal the win.

Granted, no running back has the kind of performance Ellington had Saturday on his own. The offensive line has to be strong (more on that next), and the passing game has to offer some balance. Clemson got both Saturday, but Ellington was the star, and he put the offense on his back, was a workhorse and led his team to victory.

STRONG ON THE LINE: Clemson's offensive line had some question marks going into the season, but many of those were answered in the opener, at least for one game.

The Tigers' front group dominated Auburn's defensive front, especially on the ground, to the tune of 28 first downs and 528 total yards on 87 plays (a tempo offensive coordinator Chad Morris had to love). Auburn finished with 64 plays for 374 yards, and the pace and Clemson's physical play wore down Auburn in the fourth quarter.

Clemson finished with 52 rushes – this is a pass-first offense, right? – for 320 yards while Auburn rushed for 180 yards on 37 carries. After Auburn took a 19-16 lead early in the fourth quarter, Clemson scored the game's final 10 points and did most of its damage in that quarter on the ground. On the drive that led to Hopkins' touchdown catch to regain the lead, eight of the 10 plays came on the ground. And on the next drive, to help clinch the win, Clemson again had eight rushes and two passes, leading up to a Chandler Catanzaro field goal for a seven-point lead.

KEY AT QB: Tajh Boyd didn't have a record-breaking, highlight-stealing night, but he ran the Clemson offense almost to perfection and looked like a player who has a year of experience under his belt.

Tajh Boyd's summer slim down payed off Saturday night as he rushed for 58 yards and made several key plays on the ground. (Roy Philpott)
Auburn's Kiehl Frazier, on the other hand, looked very much like a sophomore making his first start. Frazier completed 11-of-27 passes for 194 yards, and he missed several open receivers on key plays that could have changed the outcome. Boyd finished 24-of-34 and was on the money for most of the night, throwing for 208 yards. He also rushed for 58 yards.

But the main thing was he was in control – of the offense and his emotions. He didn't get flustered when his receiving corps had some drops. He just kept playing and driving the offense, and he did a terrific job in leading his unit. It was the kind of leadership Clemson fans should be excited about moving forward.

THINGS TO FIX: Not all of the game was good for Clemson on Saturday, but that's to be expected in an opener against a quality opponent. The Tigers from the ACC outplayed the Tigers from the SEC for most of the contest, and it really shouldn't have been as close as it was on the scoreboard except for one major problem on both sides of the ball.

While the offense had more than 500 yards on nearly 90 plays, imagine what those numbers could have been had the receivers and tight ends caught all the balls they should have. From our seats at the Georgia Dome, my two sons and I counted at least six drops (and remember, Boyd only had 10 incompletions). A couple of those were crucial and would have led to first downs and possibly more points and many more yards.

On defense, there were still several missed assignments throughout the game, specifically with the linebackers and defensive backs. One led to Auburn's first touchdown as Emory Blake was running down the middle of the field all alone and hauled in a 54-yard touchdown pass. Another led to a 38-yard reception by Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who again was wide open in the middle of the field.

There were more, but overall, the defense played pretty well and kept the Auburn offense under control. It held Auburn out of the end zone and made it settle for four field goals after the first quarter. After Clemson took its four-point lead in the fourth quarter on Hopkins' scoring catch, the Clemson defense was up to the challenge.

In fact, Auburn didn't run another play in Clemson territory.

So yes, there were mistakes on both sides of the ball. But they are correctable mistakes and certainly things that can be fixed. The Clemson players and coaches will work on those this week after a well-deserved win, something they all will feel good about.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley

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