Matt Connolly

Clemson has more reason for optimism than concern after Week 1

Clemson did not put together the dominant performance many expected Saturday night at Auburn, but overall there are more positive takeaways than negative from the Tigers’ 19-13 win.

The biggest question marks for Clemson entering the season were clearly on defense, and the Tigers answered a lot of them at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The new-look defensive line owned the line of scrimmage with Clemson recording 14 tackles for loss, its most since 2014. Clemson’s inexperienced secondary held Auburn to only 175 passing yards, most of which came late. And Auburn finished 3-for-17 on third down.

Auburn accumulated 262 total yards despite throwing three different quarterbacks, several different formations and a lot of misdirection at Clemson’s defense, which features seven new starters.

“Defensively just an outstanding job… Auburn’s a team that hangs its hat on running the football and to hold them to 87 yards is outstanding,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said during his Sunday teleconference.

“Our defense just played tremendous. I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage. Those guys were disruptive.”

Clemson had a number of new starters contribute on defense, from Kendall Joseph, who led the Tigers in tackles with 10 and tackles for loss with three, to true freshman defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who recorded seven tackles and a sack off the bench.

In total Clemson had nine different players contribute to the 14 tackles for loss, and new starter at safety Jadar Johnson joined defensive leader Ben Boulware in hauling in an interception.

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was happy with the play of his unit after the game.

“I loved how they battled. That was a lot of fun,” he said. “Plenty of mistakes to fix and correct and learn from, but just very impressed with how hard they fought and continued to find ways to get off the field.”

Clemson moved the ball all night at Auburn but dropped passes and mental mistakes kept the game close.

With that said, Clemson did enough to earn a win on the road against an SEC opponent in a tough environment.

“We want to put on a show obviously, but you’ve always got to find a way to win. You can’t come away from a win disappointed. A win is a win. It’s hard to get a win against an SEC team in a place like this,” center Jay Guillermo said. “We knew it was going to be a dog fight. We knew it wasn’t going to be one of those where we just boat race them. We knew it was going to be tough to win.”

While Clemson’s offense managed only 19 points, Deshaun Watson and company have a couple of weeks to iron out the wrinkles against Troy and South Carolina State before beginning ACC play.

Clemson’s offense should look a lot more like the one that ended last season with 11 straight games of at least 500 yards of total offense than the one that sputtered at times against Auburn by the end of the month.

“We had four drops, three touchdowns. The four drops were critical plays for us,” Swinney said. “We’re going to be very good on offense. That’s one thing I’m not worried about.”

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC