By The Associated Press
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Auburn certainly misses Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton. It may miss star defensive tackle Nick Fairley even more.
No. 21 Auburn’s luck ended Saturday along with its 17-game winning streak as Clemson piled up 624 yards in beating the defending national champions 38-24.
“It’s been a long time since we lost,” Auburn safety Demetruce McNeal said. “I guess it’s a new feeling for us all.”
And a new one for Clemson, which hadn’t opened 3-0 since 2007.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd led the way, completing 30 of 42 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns in his third start. While Clemson’s offense was rolling up yardage, its defense was shutting down an Auburn attack that had a knack for staging late-game rallies. That’s what happened a year ago when Auburn overcame a 17-0 deficit to beat Clemson 27-24 in overtime.
This time, it was Boyd picking apart Auburn’s defense, something Fairley, the Detroit Lions’ first-round pick, rarely let happen last season.
Auburn (2-1) took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter before Boyd began hitting his targets over the final three periods. Clemson converted 10 straight third-down attempts during one stretch, sapping Auburn’s energy said defensive back Ryan White.
“We got to get off the field on third down,” White said. “That killed our spirit. You go on the road, that takes a lot of energy and you could see they rallied. They got the crowd into it and they couldn’t be stopped.”
Auburn may have a dynamic offense, but its was last in Southeastern Conference defense coming in and it showed at Death Valley. Clemson scored on five of six possessions at one point and its 624 yards was the most it ever totaled against an SEC opponent.
Trailing 38-24 in the fourth quarter, Auburn moved to Clemson’s 8-yard line. But Barrett Trotter was intercepted by Coty Sensabaugh to end the threat.
“We’re angry that we lost that game,” Trotter said. “That goes without saying.”
Michael Dyer led Auburn with 151 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Clemson players jumped around in celebration when the clock struck zero and fans swarmed the field. Coach Dabo Swinney told his players they had greatness in them but had to decide to show it.
“I couldn’t think of a better place to end the streak than Death Valley, South Carolina, baby,” he said.
Clemson had lost 14 straight to Auburn since a 34-0 win in 1951. That was also the last time Clemson posted as many yards of offense (524) against an SEC opponent — Clemson plays South Carolina, an SEC member since 1992, each year
Boyd’s touchdown passes included throws of 65 and 19 yards to freshman receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins finished with 10 catches for 155 yards, both setting Clemson records for a freshman.
Trotter was continually harassed by Clemson’s defense, particularly in the second half when he completed four passes. He finished 12 of 25 for 198 yards in his first road start.
Auburn expected to see a mirror-image of its offense out of Clemson: It’s new coordinator Chad Morris is good friends and a student of Auburn offensive leader Gus Malzahn. But it was Malzahn’s well-honed attack that got the better of things early on, threatening to give the Atlantic Coast Conference another black eye in nonconference play.
Malzahn said he and Morris spoke after the game and was glad for his friend’s success. He’s not happy that it came against Auburn.
“We’re a work in progress,” Malzahn said. “We got to find a way to get better at doing everything. I feel strong that this group will be a successful offense.”
Dyer ran 52 yards for a touchdown on Auburn’s second series and Emory Blake caught a 36-yard scoring pass from Trotter a series later for a 14-0 lead.
It was Blake’s sixth straight game with a scoring catch, something Auburn hadn’t seen since Byron Franklin did it in 1980.
Dyer’s second rushing touchdown of the game put Auburn ahead 21-7 midway through the second quarter.
But Auburn’s defensive cracks eventually showed up for Clemson to plow through. Boyd was 3-of-3 on third-down throws the next time Clemson had the ball, including a 6-yard TD pass to Dwayne Allen in the back of the end zone to end an 81-yard scoring drive.
Clemson went 75 yards the next time it got the ball, the big play coming on Allen’s 23-yard catch to the Auburn 2. Andre Ellington finished things off with a touchdown run to tie the game.