ATLANTA–With All-American receiver Sammy Watkins suspended, Clemson needed someone to step up. DeAndre Hopkins obliged.
Hopkins out-dueled Auburn’s Chris Davis in the corner of the end zone for what turned out to be the winning touchdown in Clemson’s 26-19 victory over Auburn on Saturday in the second ACC-SEC showdown of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Weekend at the Georgia Dome.
Despite being well-covered, Hopkins leaped above Davis and snagged Tajh Boyd’s four-yard pass on first-and-goal to put Clemson ahead for good with nine minutes left in the game.
Hopkins, who sent a single-game school record with 13 receptions, finished with 113 receiving yards.
A Chick-fil-A Classic record crowd of 75,211 was treated to a back-and-forth game that wouldn’t be decided until the fourth quarter. Both offenses moved up and down the field, but had trouble finding the end zone.
Auburn scored only one touchdown against a Clemson defense that returned seven starters from the unit that was torched for 70 points by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
The game was tied, 16-16, heading into fourth quarter after Cody Parkey of Auburn hit two of his four field goals in the third quarter.
Parkey put Auburn ahead, 19-16, early in the fourth quarter, after Daren Bates’ interception gave the Tigers from the SEC possession inside Clemson territory
But Auburn’s inability to finish drives with touchdowns was the story.
Clemson wasn’t exactly a touchdown machine, either, and settled for field goals from Spencer Benton on four drives deep inside Auburn territory. Benton’s fourth field goal came with 1:30 to play and put Clemson up by seven.
Clemson took a 13-10 lead into the locker room after a first half featuring big plays and big miscues.
Auburn grabbed a 7-3 lead on a 54-yard pass from Kiehl Frazier to a wide-open Emory Blake midway through the first quarter. But, for the most part, Frazier struggled to string together first downs.
Auburn turned the ball over twice in the first half, and receiver Trovon Reed lost track of where he was in the end zone and stepped out of bounds before securing what looked like a certain touchdown pass.
Andre Ellington’s electric 68-yard run set up Clemson’s first touchdown of the game. Ellington spun out of a tackle, managed to keep his balance and cut across the field before being brought down at the Auburn 9-yard-line.
Two plays later, Roderick McDowell scored on a seven-yard run to give Clemson the lead back at 13-7.
Clemson had the ball for five more minutes than Auburn in the first half, but twice had to settle for short Chandler Catanazaro field goals after drives stalled inside the Auburn 30.
A false start on fourth and goal from the 1 caused coach Dabo Swinney to pull his offense off the field and send out Catanzaro. Tight end Brandon Ford had a key drop on a third down that killed another drive.
Touted sophomore running back Tre Mason lost a fumble at midfield to end what had been an impressive Auburn drive that started at its own one.
NOTES — The new rule that requires players to come out of the game for a play if their helmet comes off came in to play in the first quarter, when Tajh Boyd lost his lid twice on one drive. Backup Cole Stoudt replaced Boyd both times. … Tunde Fariyike started at center for Auburn in place of suspended Reese Dismukes. … Auburn’s schedule features eight bowl teams from last season. … Clemson has only 12 seniors on the roster, the fewest since 1999. … Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris got tricky in the first half. With Boyd looking over at the side line, the ball was snapped directly to running back Andre Ellington. … A Tennessee fan who fell over a Georgia Dome railing during Friday’s game between the Volunteers and North Carolina State died Saturday from injuries sustained in the fall.