The magical feeling of a goal line stand could not be found amongst the Auburn family on Saturday in Clemson, South Carolina. The extravagant high received from a magical comeback victory was also missing. Auburn fans appeared violated and confused.
The scoreboard reflected the reason for such despair. Clemson 38, Auburn 24.
The Clemson Tigers ran roughshod over the Auburn Tigers and the place with the appropriate name, Death Valley, exposed the 2010 National Champions to much demise; in more ways than one.
Upon entering Clemson Memorial Stadium, one cannot help but notice the large, purple letters which read, "Welcome to Death Valley." Surely, the Auburn family did not feel welcome after their 17-game win streak was snapped. The feeling was even less hospitable when time ran out and Death Valley had also ended Auburn's magical ability to come from behind and escape with victory.
Prior to the game on Saturday, Auburn had not lost a game in the state of South Carolina since Shug Jordan first roamed the Auburn sidelines as a rookie head coach. That was in 1951 and for sixty years, Auburn had not lost in the Palmetto State. Death Valley would entomb that long streak as well.
Nevertheless, Auburn's loss did not occur because they were playing in "Death Valley." Auburn lost to Clemson because the team played very poorly. The offense was non-existent in the second half and the defense was pretty much non-existent all day. Special teams fared no better and put the team in jeopardy on more than one occasion. There were glimpses of excellent play but for most of the game, Auburn did not appear to be playing Gene Chizik, Auburn Tiger football.
The Auburn defense allowed a discombobulating total of 624 yards and five touchdowns to a Clemson offense that had previously struggled in 2011. Led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, the Clemson Tigers offense did not struggle against Auburn on Saturday. The orange and purple attack of Clemson rushed 50 times for 238 yards and quarterback Boyd completed 30 of 42 passes for 386 yards.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof witnessed his young defense give way to a Clemson offense that left staggering and ugly statistics in its wake. When Clemson had the ball on 3rd down, Roof's defense stopped them only four times, allowing Clemson to convert 14 of 18 to keep the ball rolling. At one point in the game, Clemson converted 10 3rd down tries in a row. In total, the Clemson offense ran 92 plays and kept possession of the ball for 36 minutes and 15 seconds. The Auburn offense was only able to hold on to the ball for 23 minutes and 45 seconds.
What is not in the official statistics is the way Auburn defenders bounced off of the Clemson ball carriers all day. Much of the time, when Ted Roof's defense would attack a gap or blitz with a defensive back, the Auburn players would overrun the play. Not just one, but multiple Auburn defenders wound up too far into the backfield, which allowed the Clemson running attack to lucre deadly amounts of yardage on the ground.
Auburn's offense played relatively well for the first half, scoring 21 points to take an early lead. But, from the 5:06 mark in the 2nd quarter, Clemson began a comeback of their own. It took head coach Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers roughly four minutes to score twice and tie the game at the half.
In the second half, Auburn's offense could only muster a lone field field goal and Clemson would complete the victory by outscoring Auburn 17-3. After the game, Dabo Swinney stated that Death Valley was surely the most appropriate place to end Auburn's winning streak.
Give much credit to Dabo Swinney and all the coaches on the Clemson staff. The Clemson Tigers were simply better prepared than the Auburn Tigers. Had Auburn lost to Mississippi State, one could make the argument that Auburn was simply too young and inexperienced. That same argument cannot be made in reference to the loss at Clemson because Dabo Swinney's team is young and inexperienced as well.
I strongly feel that Auburn coach, Gene Chizik, is the man that has positively changed Auburn football but, against Clemson on Saturday, he and his staff were out-coached and the team was outplayed.
The loss in Death Valley exposed Auburn's very weak defense, their mediocre offense and perhaps, the fact that Auburn coaches will need to take a look at themselves as well.
Still, the Auburn football team is not as bad as it played on Saturday. Perhaps the bad play was a reflection on the coaches, who obviously did not do a very good job making adjustments as the game progressed. The team seemed to be prepared for the game but as it progressed, it could not adjust. That, in my mind, goes back to coaching.
The Clemson coaching staff had an answer for everything Auburn threw at them. On the opposite side of the field, the Auburn coaching staff could not find one single answer for Clemson.
After the goal line stand against Mississippi State, I was of the opinion that Auburn's defense needed large doses of improvement in order to get out of Death Valley with a victory. It is evident that the large doses of improvement were not administered. Now, it appears that the entire team, and not just the defense, will need large doses of improvement as soon as possible.
Quarterback Barrett Trotter played his least efficient game as an Auburn Tiger, completing only 12 of 25 passes for one touchdown and one interception. The Auburn quarterback took a beating and a bruising. Once Clemson found a little of their own magic to begin the comeback, their defensive front owned the Auburn line. This presented grave problems for Trotter and all future attack by offensive coordinator Guz Malzahn attempted on the ground or through the air was thwarted.
The offense led by Trotter did manage to earn a modest 198 yards through the air and 237 on the ground but most of it was compiled in the first half. The most impressive Auburn statistic on offense certainly belongs to running back Michael Dyer, who gained a splendid average of 9.4 yards per carry. Dyer earned this striking statistic by rushing the ball for 151 yards on only 16 carries. The Auburn sophomore also scored twice and is, without a doubt, quickly putting himself in the same category as other upper-echelon ball carriers from around the country.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney endured a heartbreaking loss to Auburn last season and as a result, his team never got it going in 2010. Ironically, Auburn's come-from-behind victory over Clemson in 2010 propelled the Tigers to an undefeated season and a National Championship.
How will things now fare for the Auburn Tigers? Will the loss in Death Valley kill the confidence of a young Auburn team? Can the Auburn defense find its physical nature before taking the field against top SEC opponents?
Although Auburn was out-coached and outplayed in Death Valley on Saturday, a little magic may yet be found through the defeat. A loss is often the best medicine to inspire a team towards victory in the future. A loss can also inspire coaches to coach better and if coaches coach better, players play better.
Both will surely need to be much better as the Tigers will travel back to the state of South Carolina to face the Gamecocks in two weeks. Unless the Auburn coaching staff can reevaluate and improve in many areas in a short period of time, the family may have to endure hard times.
Surely, recession has not come to Auburn. Surely?