Back To The Future, Part I: The Good, The Bad and the Noteworthy from Clemson 26, Auburn 19 (plus a Georgia preview!)

Clemson Auburn_mini

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – Today kicks off a new biweekly feature on PostandCourier.com and the TigerTracks blog this summer. Every Thursday and Sunday from now until mid-August (excluding SEC & ACC media days), I’ll provide a glimpse to the past – evaluating throwback tape from each 2012 game – as well as one into the future, looking ahead to whichever opponent awaits correlating to that game. (So, we’ll start with the 2012 and 2013 openers, and conclude with each season’s final game: the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl and the 2013 South Carolina showdown.)

Obviously, we’ll start Thursday with Clemson’s 26-19 defeat over Auburn, which sparked the Tigers’ terrific season. Plus, we’ll look ahead to what Georgia presents for the 2013 opener, just seven Saturdays from now. (Eek!)

This is a way to utilize what we’ve learned about the returning Tigers and how they’ll fit in with the 2013 team, which is why you won’t read a ton of elaboration on guys who are gone (Andre Ellington, Malliciah Goodman, etc.)

One way to differentiate you should know: Clemson players will be listed with shortened positions and will be listed in bold. Opposing players will be preceded by full positions and not in bold.

(So: QB Tajh Boydquarterback Kiehl Frazier.)

I hope you enjoy. Believe me, I’m eagerly anticipating football season’s arrival as much as you are.

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NO. 14 CLEMSON 26, AUBURN 19 ~ Sept. 1, 2012, ESPN

Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

The Good

Looks like that was a successful trip to Reno, Mr. Morris. Clemson reinstalled the pistol formation leading up to the opener, and as Travis Sawchik wrote the week after the Auburn game, the Tigers were in the pistol 80 percent of their snaps. Indeed, there were some hassles from the get-go – QB Tajh Boyd mishandled a pistol snap off his left shoulder, with no choice but to fall on the loose ball – but Clemson ran the ball relentlessly on Auburn, and RB Andre Ellington earned ACC Offensive Back of the Week honors for his 228 yards. Now if Clemson ever matches up with Nevada in a bowl game, well … this could get awkward.

DT Josh Watson was involved in two big moments. First, to start the second quarter following a couple of long Auburn runs, Watson patiently drops back, reaches his big left arm around to tailback Tre Mason’s left hand and slaps the ball loose. Easy recovery for Clemson. Then to open the fourth, when Auburn started to wear down Clemson’s defense a little bit, Watson draws a holding call by left tackle Greg Robinson, stunting momentum and forcing Auburn to, again, settle for a field goal.

Tremendous, game-changing play when Boyd breaks out of the grasp of linebacker Daren Bates and cornerback Chris Davis, and connects on a rollout with WR Charone Peake. Turned what would have been a 4th-and-16 into a 4th and 1, and after initially bringing out K Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson called time and gave it to Ellington instead. First down converted. Boyd flipped the switch after this point – a little over 5 minutes left in the third quarter.

Boyd doesn’t like to run? Poor Ryan Smith, the Auburn safety, begs to differ. Sprang loose by a zone read, the shifty Boyd cut back and Smith had no chance, crumpling to the ground.

Boyd’s pocket presence. Carries himself like a pro quarterback on dropbacks. Throws darts when he has time. So composed.

CB Bashaud Breeland showed great reaction and closing speed to take down tailback Onterio McCalebb on a screen pass, forcing Auburn to settle for a field goal in the red zone. Later on, Breeland wasn’t fooled on a reverse, shaking off a block from center Tunde Fariyike and gobbling up receiver Quan Bray. Couple of impact plays.

Hey, look, it’s DE Vic Beasley! And just in the nick of time. Color commentator Todd Blackledge exclaimed “it looked like he was shot out of a cannon”, forcing quarterback Kiehl Frazier to throw it away on the first play of Desperation Drive under two minutes to go. And, hey, look, it’s Vic Beasley again! Brutalizes Robinson (who had a terrible debut) and swallows up Frazier. Auburn only gets one more play, which goes incomplete, and that’s the ball game.

A rundown: LB Stephone Anthony makes an impressive leap to his right, tips a ball that would have moved the chains to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen … incredible submarine stop by DT DeShawn Williams, who from the carpet wrapped up Mason’s legs for a 3rd-and-2 stop … RB Roderick McDowell with a tough inside run on short yardage.

The Bad

Far, far too many penalties, dropped balls and unnecessary gaffes. WR DeAndre Hopkins’ illegal motion (he never got set) nullifies a fearless route and terrific diving grab by WR Martavis Bryant in between corner T’Sharvan Bell and safety Jermaine Whitehead. We mentioned the Boyd fumble. On 4th-and-goal from the 1, RG Tyler Shatley rocks his left shoulder – false start on a hard snap count backfires, and Clemson settles for a field goal. That was after a dropped ball by TE Brandon Ford. Then on defense, with nine guys stacked in the box, CB Darius Robinson gets twisted around and completely loses receiver Emory Blake, who ends up with the easiest 54-yard touchdown grab you’ll ever see. 12 men in the offensive huddle on Clemson’s next drive. And we’re still in the first quarter. Yeeeesh. So no, Clemson didn’t play its best ball.

Game stats said six penalties for 30 yards, but it felt like more. And I counted five drops; Bryant and Ford did so on two out of three consecutive plays.

A rundown: Bryant hesitated bringing the angled kick out of the end zone, and got caught behind WR Jaron Brown, before getting knocked out of bounds at the 10. Boyd didn’t look pleased … S Robert Smith gave Lutzenkirchen waaaaaaay too much cushion to end the third quarter, setting up Auburn in the red zone.

The Noteworthy

The overturned Tajh Boyd fumble on a scramble, which was officially ruled that his knee was down upon video review? Yeah, that was a bad overturn. That was a fumble. Clemson got lucky there. Brad Nessler even uttered on the telecast, “Wow. Well, we’ve got our opinion, but the one that counts is the guy’s next to us.” As in, the video review boss man.

Interesting decision: after receiving a punt at the 20, Instead of bleeding clock, Clemson merely cranked the tempo down a tad. They still were snapping the ball with more than 15 seconds left on the play clock. It paid off.

RT Gifford Timothy left the game late with discomfort in his knee, but coming off meniscus surgery, he played all right against Auburn’s defensive end duo of Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford.

Boyd had to exit the game four times: three for a popped-off helmet, and once with an ouchy right thigh.

Boyd went to Ford five times in his first 16 attempts. For the game, Ford was targeted nine times. Yeah, the tight end’s important in this offense.

Three rushing first downs by Boyd – on third down. Even when he’s not the star of the show (Ellington 228 yards, Hopkins 13 catches robbed the spotlight), Boyd impacts games unlike many, many players in the country.

I write this as an Auburn beat writer in 2012, who was obviously on hand for this game: this was Auburn’s best game of the year. In fact, of the nine teams to defeat the 2010 champions last fall, there’s only one who could consider that day a “good” win, and that’s Clemson. The other eight, with the possible exception of the circus that was Arkansas, simply beat a bad team. Clemson beat a good football team on the first night of the 2012 season.

THREE STARS

3) Tajh Boyd, QB. As mentioned above: Boyd’s good even when it’s not blatantly obvious he’s good.

2) DeAndre Hopkins, WR. An eye-popping, “I got this even without Sammy” performance set the tone for his entire season. School record 13 catches, for 119 yards and pay dirt.

1) Andre Ellington, RB. I’m as baffled as you are he wasn’t drafted until the sixth round.

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GAME 1: Georgia at Clemson, Aug. 31, 2013, Death Valley

A LOOK AT GEORGIA

2012 record: 12-2, 7-1 SEC

2012 highlights: lost to Alabama 32-28 in SEC Championship Game; def. Nebraska 45-31 in Capital One Bowl; ranked in the top 13 all season long, finished No. 5

Head coach: Mark Richt, 13th year (@MarkRicht)

Returning starters (o/d): 12 (9/3)

Base formations: Offense – 3-WR pro style | Defense – 3-4

Georgia-Clemson series: Georgia holds a commanding 41-17-4 advantage, including a five-game winning streak that does reach back to 1990. Of course, as we’ll document later this summer, Clemson and Georgia met 11 straight years from 1977-87, which featured five Tigers wins, five Bulldogs wins and a tie. The margin those five years: Georgia 171, Clemson 159 … in the last 110 years, Clemson has opened against Georgia three times, and lost all three (1982, 13-7; 2002, 31-28; 2003, 30-0) … remarkably, this will be only the fourth meeting when both teams are ranked in the top 25. No. 8 Clemson edged No. 18 Georgia 21-20 in 1987, but the Bulldogs triumphed in 1982 and 1984 by a combined nine points. The home team won all three of those meetings … the foes have clashed 20 times in Clemson. Nine wins for Clemson, nine wins for Georgia, and two ties. Think this might be a good game?

Notes: Clemson is 87-22-8 in season openers, with 22 wins in its past 27 years … the Tigers are 4-7 when opening against a ranked opponent … Tigers have seven wins over opponents ranked in either poll over their past 33 games … Clemson has won 32 percent of its games against SEC teams … this game is 51 days away.