Clemson’s color is orange rather than Alabama’s Crimson. And Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney is too likable and engaging to be confused with the grouchy coach of the Alabama Death Star.
But defending national champ Clemson sure is taking on other Alabama characteristics that can be compared to Nick Saban’s title teams.
The No. 3-ranked Tigers improved to 2-0 with a 14-6 win over No. 13 Auburn (1-1) — that other team from Alabama — in a Saturday night contest at Clemson.
Alabama-like defensive pressure was the formula. The Clemson Tigers recorded 11 sacks for 72 yards. They held Auburn to two first-half field goals until the offense caught up. Junior quarterback Kelly Bryant directed two long scoring drives.
“Gritty win for our team,” Swinney told ESPN from the field after the telecast. “It wasn’t perfect, but we can build on it. This is type of a win you need early in the season to grow your team. We’ll get better from it. It was a heck of a victory; give Auburn a lot of credit.”
Just as Alabama has separated itself from other Southeastern Conference schools, Clemson is putting distance between the remainder of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
A year ago, Clemson won the national title with bookend wins over Alabama’s two teams from the SEC. The Tigers were sluggish in a 19-13 win at Auburn before they tapped their explosive ability later in the year. Clemson beat Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff national championship game behind third-year starter Deshaun Watson.
The difference this year is Clemson will have to learn if it can build toward matching last year’s offensive fireworks. Last year, it was about the offense regaining its timing.
The Tigers’ young offense under a first-year starting quarterback didn’t look like the team that dominated Kent State in the 56-3 opener. That turned out to be misleading.
But Bryant and the offense matured enough to overcome a 6-0 deficit in a slugfest. The physical play included a big hit by Auburn’s Dontavius Russell that knocked Bryant out of the game for treatment.
His return was the grit that Swinney saw in his team. Bryant isn’t Deshaun Watson, but he hasn’t shown himself to be overmatched for the job.
He drove Clemson 88 yards in 12 plays for a 7-6 lead with 48 seconds left in the first half. He scored on a 3-yard run. The second TD was an eight-play, 79-yard march Bryant finished with a 27-yard run.
Bryant completed 19 of 29 passes for 181 yards and rushed 19 times for 59 yards and two touchdowns. That was enough to get by, thanks to the defense.
Auburn was held to 117 total yards. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham was 13 of 29 passing for 79 yards. In college football, sack yardage is subtracted from the rushing total. Clemson’s 11 sacks reduced Auburn’s net rushing total to 42 carries for 38 yards for a 0.9 per carry average. That’s despite running back Kamryn Pettway carrying 22 times for 74 yards.
Seven Clemson players recorded sacks, led by four for 13 yards from defensive end Austin Bryant. In all, nine players finished with a tackle for a loss.
Sounds like that team from Tuscaloosa.
Follow Tom Shanahan’s of FanRag Sports stories on Twitter @shanny4055.