AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn quarterback Cam Newton stood before his team in the locker room at halftime, and delivered an important message: No more slacking, and no more lack of focus. Time was running out.
At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, when Newton speaks, he tends to hold a captive audience.
“Cam being a leader really showed character by saying, ‘Hey, this is what we need to do,’ and he actually went out there and did it,” said freshman running back Michael Dyer. “There was a time when he stood in the pocket and took a shot and threw a touchdown pass. Most quarterbacks probably couldn’t do that or handle the pressure. He really went out there and showed what he meant by that.”
Auburn’s inspired second half led to a 27-24 overtime win against Clemson -- a dramatic win that was sealed when Clemson was penalized for an illegal snap on what would have been the game-tying field goal. Instead of a second overtime, Clemson’s points were taken off the board, and kicker Chandler Catanzaro’s next try went wide left. It was a physical game and gutsy performance by both teams -- one that they’ll both take some confidence from moving forward.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be a good football team, I really do,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I think we’ve got the ingredients. I thought that coming into this game. I wasn’t really sure how they would respond. We didn’t play a perfect game, we made some mistakes, but they fought hard, played with some toughness and showed poise at some critical times.”
Despite the loss, it was one of the more respectable performances by an ACC team this month -- save for the third quarter. Auburn outgained Clemson 258-46 in the third quarter after totaling 116 in the first half and eight in the first quarter. Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said Clemson came out in the first half using some different formations and plays than he had seen in any of the game film they studied from last year.
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn also made some adjustments, and Auburn coach Gene Chizik said there was “nothing but chalk flying at halftime on a bunch of adjustments.”
“Anytime you win a game like this, the way you do it, it really carries over,” Malzahn said. “I think we were down 17-0 and playing very bad football on offense. It was good to see our guys come back and put some points on the board to win the game.”
Newton completed seven passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns, including a 78-yard pass to Terrell Zachery in the third quarter to give Auburn its first lead at 24-17.
“We just started executing our plays and everything started slowing down,” Newton said. “Everybody started to realize that we can’t wait until the next time. We had some guys that stood up and started making some big plays.”
Including the defense. Auburn’s opponents are 0-for-7 on third-down conversions in the fourth quarter this year.
“We came into the locker room at halftime and told each other that we were not going to quit,” safety Zac Ethridge said. “We just kept on fighting. It really showed the character of our team.”
Auburn earned the win, but Clemson definitely earned some respect. The Tigers entered Jordan-Hare Stadium untested and unranked after wins over unheralded opponents North Texas and Presbyterian, but made a statement early by controlling the clock for 19:23 in the first half to Auburn’s 10:37. Clemson also proved it could survive offensively with a new cast of characters and without the production of former running back C.J. Spiller.
“There’s a lot of pain, a lot of hurt in that room right now,” Swinney said. “Guys worked really hard. They fought really hard to win this game. This is a team we’re going to be playing for a couple more years. We learned a lot about them, they learned a lot about us. I wish them well but we have to go back to work. All of our goals on our board are still there. Anytime you lose a game in overtime -- especially on the road when you’ve got a chance to win -- it’s a painful thing, but there’s nothing final or fatal unless you let it be that way.”