CLEMSON, S.C. – All preseason, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told Kelly Bryant that the best version of Bryant would be good enough this season for the Tigers.
On Saturday night, Bryant’s best came after he was knocked briefly from the game, as he and Clemson’s defense came back swinging to send Auburn packing in a 14-6 slugfest that answered more than a few questions about the defending national champions.
Clemson’s defensive line was nasty a season ago and a major reason the Tigers took down Alabama in the national championship game. Two games into the 2017 season, there doesn’t appear to be any drop-off. Clemson sacked Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham 11 times, one off the Clemson school record of 12 sacks.
And while nobody’s ready to proclaim Bryant the next coming of Deshaun Watson, Bryant’s toughness shone through against an Auburn defense that’s menacing in its own right. Bryant took a nasty hit in the second quarter and lay crumpled on the ground. He missed the next possession. But after being checked by Clemson medical personnel, the 6-foot-4 junior was right back on the field.
Bryant, making his second career start, led Clemson on an 88-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half to stake Clemson to a 7-6 halftime lead, and followed that gem with a 79-yard touchdown drive to open the third quarter. He made plays with his arm and wasn’t hesitant to duck his head and earn tough yards -- and first downs -- with his legs.
While Bryant got back up off the deck to rally Clemson from an early 6-0 deficit, Clemson’s defense kept Stidham on the deck for much of the night. Auburn’s receivers had difficulty getting open all game, and Stidham held on to the ball too long at times and also spent a good portion of the game running for his life.
Any chance Auburn had to win the game probably went out the window in the first half. Auburn had to settle for two short field goals after having a fourth-and-goal at the Clemson 1 and being penalized for delay of game, and then being stuffed after taking over at the Clemson 10 after a turnover.
In a lot of ways, the game was a replica of last season’s game between these two teams, a game in which the Auburn defense fought valiantly but didn’t get any help from its offense.
Stidham finished with just 79 yards passing. His second completion of the game went for 23 yards. He didn’t have another pass for longer than 10 yards the rest of the game.