Auburn Escapes as Clemson Misses Overtime Field Goal
Clemson rolled into Jordan-Hare Stadium with a clear plan to turn its offensive line into an overwhelming advantage. Those big boys are paired with three useful tailbacks and when they're working in concert, opponents are in trouble.
And that's right where Auburn found itself Saturday night.
Yet something odd happened along that Clemson sideline. A change in approach, a series of defensive missteps and a bizarre final sequence that may never again occur in a college football game left the visitors trying to make sense of what happened.
Auburn beat Clemson in overtime, 27-24.
Everything came down to the final drive -- just as it did for Auburn last week at Mississippi State. Clemson used that offensive line and those tailbacks and those play-action passes to burrow deep into Auburn territory.
The visitors needed a touchdown to win.
They were eight yards away.
On third down, Kyle Parker found himself in a perfect situation. He rolled out to his right and the right-handed quarterback found wideout Jaron Brown running open in the right-hand side of the end zone.
It was ideal.
The throw was a less than ideal. Parker led Brown a little too much and the ball rolled along both sets of the receiver's fingertips.
That drop may resonate for months.
Clemson's kicker, Chandler Catanzaro (above right), tied the game with a 26-yard field goal. But the play was nullified because of what the lead official described as an illegal snap.
Catanzaro was pushed back five yards and given another chance to tie. The pressure was on as the freshman was surrounded on all sides by a frenzied Auburn student section.
He missed. The kick sailed wide.
And Clemson's nightmare loss -- a game that seemed like a blowout waiting to happen throughout the first half -- officially was consummated.
"We knew at some point this would happen," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said when asked about Auburn's comeback. "That's a big gorilla that gets on your back when the momentum shifts on the road."
What We Learned
1. Auburn's coaches actually can coach. So much of the emphasis at Auburn these days centers around recruiting. Coach Gene Chizik assembled a staff loaded with revered recruiters who aren't widely known for their strategic abilities.
The Tigers' coordinators, though, are another thing.
Defensive czar Ted Roof watched his unit concede yards at an alarming rate throughout the first half. The issue was Auburn's secondary alignments, which provided ample cushion on receivers to help erase the team's trouble with man coverage.
Quick passes and screens helped Clemson build a 17-3 halftime lead. In the second half, Roof's defense eliminated those cushions and mostly eliminated Clemson's short-pass attack.
Clemson scored only seven points after halftime.
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn also worked through a learning curve of his own. His alleged high-power offense ended the first half with 116 yards.
He stopped experimenting with between-the-tackles running and instead looked to quarterback Cam Newton (right) to provide a spark. The junior converted a pair of critical third downs with improvisational runs and his willingness to throw deep elicited anxiety among Clemson's defense.
Auburn finished with 424 yards.
2. Kyle Parker is not immortal. Clemson's sophomore quarterback is a great story.
He was picked in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft this summer, but his desire to continue playing college football put those plans on hold. His physical ability on the field is easy to see.
His arm is strong. He has an idea of what he wants to do with each throw.
Clemson's problem Saturday night was that Parker was inaccurate in some critical situations. His overtime incompletion was forgivable, but missing so many open receivers during the first and second quarters -- long before Auburn developed a meaningful defensive plan -- compromised his team's chances.
3. A kicker's job is never easy. Cameron Catanzaro faced the biggest kick of his life Saturday and missed it.
There were plenty of legitimate reasons. The freshman was playing in front of the largest crowd in Clemson history. He was immersed in the loudest corner of Jordan-Hare Stadium while the kick was launched.
He was attempting the kick a second time in less than a minute.
None of that matters now.
4. Clemson is tough. Clemson has enough brawn to win games in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It has already demonstrated the ability to bludgeon a Southeastern Conference defense with rough play between the tackles.
Learning to trust that part of its attack -- and ignoring the urge to add unnecessary complexity to its play-calling patterns -- will be Clemson's biggest challenge this season.
5. Auburn is one of the nation's most entertaining teams. The Tigers never fail to create drama.
Protracted defensive lapses created some intrigue during Auburn's 52-26 win over Arkansas State two weeks ago. A week later at Mississippi State, the Tigers' offense collapsed and an unlikely defensive stand during the fourth quarter preserved the team's chances.
Now this -- an overtime win with a bizarre twist.
Not that Auburn fans are new to this. The Tigers beat Northwestern in the Outback Bowl by halting a fake field-goal attempt near the goal line.
Jay G. Tate covers Auburn for the Montgomery Advertiser. Check out his blog, the Hottest Auburn Blog on The Net.