The Auburn Tigers’ 17-game winning streak came to a halt on Saturday with a 38-24 loss at Clemson. Auburn led 21-7 in the first half before Clemson stormed back to take control of the game. The loss drops Auburn’s record to 2-1 on the season and will likely see them fall out of the AP Top 25.
Where does the blame for this loss lie? In a word, defense, or lack thereof, doomed the Tigers. Auburn has struggled to stop their opponents this season, and they finally had to face the consequences when their offense couldn’t keep up with Clemson.
The Auburn defense has had its problems with the running game this year, but at Clemson they were also torched through the air. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, who is still relatively inexperienced as a starter, was nearly unstoppable with 386 yards on 18-26 passing and four touchdowns. Boyd was not sacked at all and did not throw any interceptions.
Auburn did a good job of limiting Clemson freshman star Sammy Watkins in the first half, but he lit up the Tigers after halftime. Watkins finished with 155 yards on 10 catches and had the defining play of the game—a 65-yard touchdown catch that broke a 21-21 tie in the third quarter.
Clemson running back Andre Ellington was mostly held in check, but overall it was another poor day for the Auburn run defense. Clemson totaled 238 yards on the ground, with the main damage coming from D.J. Howard’s 86 yards.
Combined with the pass, Auburn gave up 624 yards of total offense. It was the first time Auburn gave up over 600 yards since the 2009 Outback Bowl, and the most since Florida put 625 against the Tigers in 1996. As it happens, that game marked the start of Auburn’s 17-game winning streak that ended today.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, Auburn’s poor defense could be a fatal flaw. The Tigers’ schedule includes plenty of offenses that could be even more talented than Clemson. The defense features many young players still getting used to their roles, but eventually that will no longer fly as an excuse, as many of those players are highly-touted recruits.
The defense should get a respite next week against Florida Atlantic but will be put to the test once again the following Saturday when Auburn visits South Carolina. The pressure will be on the coaching staff and the players to make the right adjustments and seek improvements if Auburn is going to be a contender in the SEC this season.