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Clemson’s Defensive Line Sacked Auburn Into Submission

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham didn’t stand a chance against title-defending Clemson’s relentless defense

NCAA Football: Auburn at Clemson Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson-Auburn was not so much a college football game as it was a live recreation of Surviving the Game, with Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham reprising Ice-T’s role in the 1994 classic as a man hunted by other humans and Clemson’s defensive line playing the roles of the people hunting him. I think Ice-T kills all the people hunting him and survives. But in this reboot, Stidham was not so lucky:

Stidham had about 1.5 seconds per dropback to throw the ball, and he routinely held it for several seconds longer than was advisable. I’d estimate he spent more time scrambling in sheer fear than he did standing in the pocket. Perhaps scrambling is the wrong word—there was just the realization somebody was gaining on him, an uncoordinated firing of limbs in hopes of extending his life for a few more instants, and then the downward drag.

Stidham threw for 79 yards and was sacked 11 times for a combined loss of 72. On 35 dropbacks, Auburn gained 7 yards. (That’s not good.) On Auburn’s final drive, Stidham was sacked on first, second, and third down to bring up fourth-and-25. They punted, mercifully, saving Stidham from another play. Auburn never found the end zone in the 14-6 loss, and one of their two field goals came after they received the ball on Clemson’s 11-yard line.

I’ve been skeptical of Clemson’s chances of repeating as national champions. They won the national championship last year by one play because of a superhuman performance by Deshaun Watson, a night that vaulted him into college football legend. Now the best player in school history is gone, replaced with Kelly Bryant, who seems good, but a notable downgrade from legendary.

But this defensive line—led by surefire first-round pick Christian Wilkins, last year’s ACC defensive freshman of the year Dexter Lawrence, and defensive end Clelin Ferrell—is probably the best positional unit in the country. This isn’t new—we wrote about how great they were last year—but this was a dominant showing of their ruthlessness and ability to take over a game. They obliterated the QB on a top-15 team until he needed worker’s comp. Clemson’s offense has questions, but they’ll have plenty of time to solve them while this defensive line hunts opposing quarterbacks.