Dabo Swinney pleased as Clemson passes opening-night test

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd passes during the second quarter at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd passes during the second quarter at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.

— Saturday night, Clemson played a slightly tougher season opener than usual.

Given the results that unfolded in the Georgia Dome, Dabo Swinney thinks that could wind up being a major positive for his team.

“There’s always a lot to learn from the opener,” he said. “Whether you win or lose it.”

No.14 Clemson took a 26-19 win over Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, giving the Tigers major momentum as they move into their 2012 schedule. With games against Ball State and Furman up next, there is a strong possibility they’ll head into Sept. 22’s crucial Atlantic Division showdown at Florida State 3-0.

“It’s not often that you play those types of games as a first game,” he said. “I’ve seen a few of them, but most teams were playing teams they should probably beat, play a lot of guys, that stuff, move on. That wasn’t the case for us. To get a challenge out of the gate, and be able to respond with as many unknowns as we were facing, not knowing what they were going to do philosophy-wise, I can’t say enough about the good things our staff was able to do in getting it done.”

Clemson rolled up 528 yards of total offense, 320 on the ground, against an Auburn defensive line that returned its entire two-deep. The line’s five starters played the entire way, save one snap from sophomore right tackle Gifford Timothy, who limped off late after injuring what Swinney said was scar tissue in his left knee, which had meniscus surgery last month.

“We’ve got three new starters on the offensive line, one (right guard Tyler Shatley) playing offensive line for the first time in his life, the other two who’ve hardly taken snaps at all, and it was good to see them do well,” Swinney said. “They went the distance and we felt confident in how they were playing. They weren’t perfect, there were things they can do better, but in the fourth quarter they took the game over with two long drives to seal the deal.

“(The 79-yard game-clinching drive) wasn’t anything fancy, just nuts and bolts of offense and those guys made it happen at the point of attack. We had four sacks and two were on Tajh, two were communication, one with the back.”

Swinney said he expects more linemen to play against Ball State Saturday; the Cardinals are 1-0 following a 37-26 win over Eastern Michigan.

He was pleased with Boyd, who had 264 yards of total offense, including 58 yards rushing, while showing off a leaner, quicker frame.

“He had a great game,” Swinney said.”He had great games last year but his ability to make big plays with his legs was the key. That’s an area where we really challenged him and he responded in a big way. He made some mistakes and we had a good opportunity to coach him and challenge him. There were thing he could have avoided, pre-snap stuff that we’ve got to clean up. He missed some big plays and had some drops on the other end. But his ability to find rush lanes and take yards as opposed to sacks, forcing a ball was a positive sign. It was a good start for him.”

Same goes for Brent Venables’ defense, who employed a bend-but-don’t-break strategy in forcing four Auburn field goals.

“We had a chance to overcome our mistakes,” he said. “I saw a lot of good things. We fought hard and were our own worst enemy at times. We had some guys misaligned, needed a middle of the field player we didn’t have at one point. We prepared for a lot of counter runs and they didn’t run counter at all, much more outside stretch.

“We settled in and played very well and clean in the fourth quarter, which was good to see. We got better as we went, had several guys play hard and step up and make plays for us.”

A pair of freshmen – linebacker Travis Blanks and defensive tackle D.J. Reader – both saw significant playing time on defense.

“They were very solid,” Swinney said. “Those two guys you’re going to see play a bunch as we move throughout the year. It was a big stage for those two rookies to run up in. They’re both very mature young men and they responded well. We’ll continue to bring them along. They’ll be fine players for us.”

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