No. 14 Clemson vs. Auburn: Postgame Grades for the Tigers' Win vs. Auburn
The Clemson Tigers proved many doubters wrong Saturday as they shook their "Atlanta curse" to come away with a 26-19 win against Auburn.
The Tigers were tested with three new starters along both the offensive and defensive lines, along with an absent Sammy Watkins at receiver.
Clemson showed that it is a lot more than Sammy Watkins. While his presence was missed, other Tigers stepped up.
We will grade the Clemson Tigers' Georgia Dome performance as they head back home to face Ball State and Furman.
Tajh Boyd definitely looks like a much-improved quarterback.
Despite an early fumble and an interception in the second half, Boyd threw for 208 yards on 24-of-35 passing with 58 yards on the ground.
There were times earlier in the game where Boyd's helmet came off and backup Cole Stoudt was forced into action. He was solid in the limited action he saw.
This summer, running back Andre Ellington came up with "his word" after the team listened to a speaker in the offseason.
That word was "relentless."
He lived up to that by rushing for 231 yards on 26 carries, averaging nearly nine yards per carry.
When the Tigers needed those short yards to keep the ball moving, Ellington and the Tiger running backs ran aggressively and secured the ball.
Rod McDowell scored the lone rushing touchdown of the night, while D.J. Howard had several carries to move the chains.
All of the backs also did well in pass protection, and now the Tigers have shown that they have plenty of power in the backfield.
The Tigers receivers were reliable in the passing game, with the lone touchdown going to DeAndre Hopkins.
Charone Peake, who started in place of Sammy Watkins, had four catches for 21 yards. Hopkins led the group with 119 yards, breaking the Clemson receptions record in a game with 13 catches.
Tight end has suddenly become a little bit more of a concern, as Brandon Ford did not have the best game.
While he was second in receiving yards with 51, he dropped several key passes, one of which would have gone for a touchdown.
Sam Cooper also had a tipped pass that ended up being an interception, as Boyd threw the ball slightly behind him.
This group will need to see some improvement catching the football over the next few weeks.
The offensive line was the most talked about subject for Clemson this offseason.
Now that they have finally played, it looks like moving Tyler Shatley to right guard from defensive tackle and starting David Beasley at left guard over Kalon Davis and Ryan Norton were the right moves.
This group looked more aggressive in the running game and decent in pass protection when Auburn did not blitz more than Clemson had protecting.
There is no denying that the work can certainly improve in pass protection, but the group proved they can go against competitive defensive lines.
They opened lanes for Ellington's 231-yard rushing performance, and showed much improvement in short-yardage situations.
The defensive line did take some time to get going early on in the game, but they stopped Auburn on its last possession.
Vic Beasley—who seems to have finally found a home at defensive end after seeing time at tight end and linebacker his first couple of years—came up with a huge sack.
The defensive tackle rotation of Josh Watson, Grady Jarrett and DeShawn Williams, coupled with freshmen D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins, provided push inside and challenged Auburn's offensive line.
The linebackers had good and bad moments.
They would be cut and taken out of the play at times, but on other occasions would plug their gaps and get the tackle to stop Auburn for minimal gains.
The linebacker corps' biggest challenge was covering the tight end. They failed to chip the tight end off the line, allowing for a free release. They must use their hands better and be more consistent when shedding blocks.
Taking better angles and ironing out the blitz will be key for this unit moving forward.
The secondary, while holding Auburn to 194 passing yards, still gave up a very easy touchdown early on in the game. It also struggled to stop passes up the seam to the tight end and slot receivers.
Cornerback Darius Robinson struggled the most out of this group, and he gave up Auburn's lone touchdown of the night.
Taking away the chunk plays will be a key part of improving this secondary.
A bright spot on Saturday was an interception thanks to safety Rashard Hall.
The kicking game was an essential part of the scoring for Clemson.
Junior kicker Chandler Catanzaro has come a long way from his rough freshman year. He was perfect on four field-goal attempts.
Punter Spencer Benton, who averaged nearly 40 yards per punt, managed to pin Auburn on the 1-yard line at one point.
The Tigers did not have many return opportunities, but special teams was highlighted by the performances of Benton and Catanzaro.
First, we must give credit to Dabo Swinney for the hire of offensive coordinator Chad Morris last season.
Morris' implementation of the Pistol offense added a much-needed offensive boost. We also saw more of the no-huddle, quick-tempo offense that Tiger fans have been waiting for.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables marshaled a defensive unit which looked comfortable out communicating with one another.
Venables' game plan kept Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier in the pocket for much of the game.