ATLANTA — Since the inception of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in 2008, the Atlantic Coast Conference had never tasted success against the Southeastern Conference.
That changed Saturday night, as chants of "ACC! ACC!" were heard inside the Georgia Dome.
Clemson did not have the services of superstar receiver Sammy Watkins, but quarterback Tajh Boyd and tailback Andre Ellington were plenty for the No. 14 Tigers as they ran past No. 25 Auburn 26-19 before a frenzied crowd of 75,211. Ellington rushed 25 times for a staggering 228 yards.
"He was relentless, and it was an awesome thing to see," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Boyd added 58 yards on 19 carries, and the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder completed 24 of 35 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. Boyd's 4-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins with 9:17 remaining put Clemson up 23-19, and he ignited that go-ahead drive with a 27-yard run.
When Clemson got the ball back and needed to milk the clock, Boyd converted a third-and-5 with a 7-yard run with five minutes remaining. Ellington got loose moments later for a 45-yard run that led to a late field goal and signified the final big play for an offense that amassed 528 yards.
Auburn's defense was playing its first game under new coordinator Brian VanGorder, who had previous stints with Georgia and the Atlanta Falcons.
"One of our key things was to stop the run, and I personally feel like I let him down and the team let him down," Auburn linebacker Daren Bates said. "That's why we've got to keep on grinding, correct our mistakes and get ready for Mississippi State."
Said Auburn coach Gene Chizik: "Defensively, we couldn't get off the field. They are a very explosive offense. We have a long way to go, as we all saw."
Saturday presented a chance at redemption for Clemson's defense, which was humiliated in January's Orange Bowl when the Tigers allowed 70 points to West Virginia. Clemson surrendered just one touchdown against Auburn, with that coming in the first quarter.
Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who was named the starter during preseason camp, completed 11 of 26 passes for 194 yards under new coordinator Scot Loeffler.
"When we get to the red zone, we've got to get six points instead of three," Frazier said.
The Tigers were not as dynamic as they were last December at the Georgia Dome, when they thumped Virginia 43-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but the tailback tandem of Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb was effective. Mason rushed for 106 yards but had a fumble that snuffed out a nice drive in the second quarter, while McCalebb added 82 yards.
"They probably thought I was a weak running back after that fumble, but I'm not," Mason said. "I'm going to come back and respond and attack."
Auburn took a 19-16 lead with 12:50 remaining on Cody Parkey's fourth field goal. The score was set up by two Mason runs after Bates opened the fourth quarter with a 12-yard interception return to Clemson's 35-yard line.
Clemson had run 19 plays to Auburn's six when Frazier ran play-action and found Emory Blake alone deep down the middle of the field for a 54-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter. It was the first career touchdown pass for Frazier, who played in all 13 games as a freshman last season but threw only 12 times.
Frazier completed more passes in the first half (six) than he did all of last season (five).
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...