Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson falls 23-20 to Auburn in overtime

Tigers can't hold onto 17-10 and 20-17 leads

Clemson’s Jock McKissic kneels on the field after Clemson lost to Auburn 23-20 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl Monday in Atlanta.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Clemson’s Jock McKissic kneels on the field after Clemson lost to Auburn 23-20 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl Monday in Atlanta.

Auburn’s Kodi Burns runs past Clemson’s Chris Chancellor to score the winning touchdown of the Chick-fil-A Bowl Monday.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Auburn’s Kodi Burns runs past Clemson’s Chris Chancellor to score the winning touchdown of the Chick-fil-A Bowl Monday.

Clemson 0 7 0 10 3— 20

Auburn 3 0 7 7 6 — 23

First quarter

Auburn — FG Wes Byrum 36, 8:54

Second quarter

Clemson — C.J. Spiller 83 run (Mark Buchholz kick), 13:14

Third quarter

Auburn — Mario Fannin 22 pass from Kodi Burns (Byrum kick), 11:33

Fourth quarter

Clemson — FG Buchholz 22, 14:58

Clemson — James Davis 1 run (Buchholz kick), 11:24

Auburn — Ben Tate 1 run (Byrum kick), 8:27

Overtime

Clemson — FG Buchholz 25

Auburn —Burns 7 run

Clemson Auburn

First downs 12 24

Rushes-yards 40-189 47-190

Passing 104 233

Comp-Att-Int 14-33-0 26-43-1

Return Yards 8 25

Punts-Avg. 8-43.1 8-38.6

Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0

Penalties-Yards 1-5 6-40

Time of Possession 29:14 30:46

RUSHING—Clemson, Spiller 8-112, Davis 23-72, Grisham 1-8, Harper 8-(minus 3). Auburn, Burns 13-69, Lester 14-57, Tate 14-47, Fannin 3-18, Cox 3-(minus 1).

PASSING—Clemson, Harper 14-33-0-104. Auburn, Cox 25-39-1-211, Burns 1-4-0-22.

RECEIVING—Clemson, Kelly 4-36, Taylor 3-32, Grisham 2-24, Harris 2-12, Spiller 2-(minus 5), Palmer 1-5. Auburn, Fannin 5-53, Dunn 5-39, R.Smith 4-45, Lester 3-24, Tate 3-19, Bennett 2-16, Billings 1-13, Hawthorne 1-12, Rodriguez 1-8, Trott 1-4.

— Kodi Burns kept running, kept moving those lightning-fast legs, leaving Clemson safety Chris Clemons in his wake.

Then, Auburn’s running quarterback juked into the end zone, setting off the biggest bang of a New Year’s Eve classic.

Burns’ 7-yard run lifted No. 22 Auburn to a 23-20 Chick-fil-A Bowl overtime victory over No. 15 Clemson on Monday night, leaving Tommy Bowden’s Tigers with a bittersweet taste for the New Year.

In the end, only those wearing Auburn orange in the crowd of 74,413 were satisfied with the first overtime game of the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s 40-year history.

South Carolina’s Tigers (9-4) missed their chance for their first 10-victory season since 1990 and a shot to finish the season — and start 2008 — in the nation’s top 10.

“We worked so hard, put a lot of effort into it,” junior receiver Aaron Kelly said. “(10 wins) was our goal, and we fell short. It’s very disappointing.”

Bowden was upset with the loss but still sees good things ahead.

“Not winning, we’re disappointed, but at 9-4, I don’t think the program’s going backward,” he said. “To finish in the top 25 and eight wins a season three years in a row (is good).

“Now we had the opportunity to get to the elite level. You win that game, you’re knocking on the door of the top 10. It’s disappointing to players, the staff, myself and the fans. But I think we’re right around the corner to where we need to go.”

Clemson lost the overtime coin flip and went on offense first, facing its section. On third-and-3 from the 8, Cullen Harper’s pass was broken up in the end zone by Patrick Williams. Mark Buchholz’s 25-yard field goal gave the Tigers a 20-17 lead.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 16 on his offensive possession, and senior quarterback Brandon Cox converted a sneak.

Three plays later, the game was over, thanks to Burns’ whirling legs.

“It was a good position,” Burns said. “I took the ball in with 10 yards to go, and the guys thought I was going to lift, but I saw a big hole and took it in.”

Clemson’s passing game — so effective all season — struggled mightily all evening. Harper finished 14-of-33 for 104 yards and was sacked three times.

“Auburn is good, but we missed some passes we would normally hit,” Bowden said. “It was not one of our better performances throwing and catching.”

Clemson held a tenuous 7-3 halftime lead, thanks to the longest play in Chick-fil-A Bowl history.

Auburn ended all mystery about its offense by essentially junking former offensive coordinator Al Borges’ system for a no-huddle, multiple-wideout spread system favored by new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.

Auburn played with quick tempo, piling up 39 first-half plays to Clemson’s 31.

Backup quarterback Burns — a more athletic complement to senior starter Cox, a drop-back pocket passer — also played a larger role, replacing Cox in the middle of series for a play or two. He was Auburn’s leading rusher with 13 carries for 69 yards. Bowden said the mystery affected his team’s defensive preparation, and Burns’ talent didn’t help, either.

Buchholz missed two field-goal attempts — from 45 and 53 yards — but tailback C.J. Spiller saved his team from a 3-0 halftime hole with one amazing play.

Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Clemson faced a second-and-5 at its own 17.

Spiller took what looked like an average inside carry right, eluded the grasp of defensive end Quentin Groves and cut left down the sideline.

And 83 yards later, Spiller raced into the end zone with the evening’s most electrifying play, giving Clemson a 7-3 lead. It was the longest bowl-game rush and play from scrimmage in Clemson history as well as the longest in Chick-fil-A Bowl history.

Auburn struck right back on its first drive of the second half, marching 78 yards in 10 plays for the go-ahead score.

Burns found tailback Mario Fannin open in the right flat on third-and-7 from the Tigers’ 22 behind backup linebacker Josh Miller.

Fannin grabbed the pass and raced untouched for the score, giving Auburn a 10-7 lead with 11:33 left in the quarter.

Harper and the passing game’s struggles left Clemson’s offense one-dimensional. From Spiller’s run to midway through the third quarter, Clemson failed to gain a first down on five consecutive possessions.

A 59-yard Jimmy Maners punt Auburn at its own 4, and after a three-and-out Clemson took the ball at the AU 43.

A Harper sneak on fourth-and-1 from the 6 set up first and goal, but Clemson couldn’t punch it in, settling for a 22-yard Buchholz field goal and a 10-10 tie with 14:58 left.

On Auburn’s next drive, defensive end Ricky Sapp pressured Cox on second-and-8 at his own 36. His pass was tipped , then intercepted by cornerback Crezdon Butler, giving Clemson the ball at the Tigers’ 32.

On third-and-9 from the 31, Harper finally connected with Kelly, a twisting 27-yard completion that set up first-and-goal at the 4.

Two plays later, a slant to Kelly left the ball 2 feet short of the goal line. Bowden elected to go for it on fourth down, and Davis blasted behind left guard for the go-ahead score, giving Clemson a 17-10 lead with 11:24 left.

Auburn wasn’t daunted, though, throwing up a 10-play, 71-yard drive mixing Burns’ running and Cox’s passing. Ben Tate’s 1-yard run tied the game at 17-17 with 8:30 left. It stayed that way until overtime.

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