September 18, 2010
Auburn 27, Clemson 24 (Overtime). It's not very often that you can almost feel the heat, violence and exhaustion of a game radiating out of your television, but Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker's anguished expression and body language throughout the second half was a rare moment of you-are-there brutality for viewers. After taking a helmet to the back in the third quarter, Parker spent the rest of the second half limping around, absorbing all kinds of punishment and looking alternately nauseous and narcoleptic on the sideline as Auburn's offense ripped off three straight touchdown drives to turn a 17-0 hole just before the half into a 24-17 lead going into the fourth.
At various points, both teams had offensive linemen carted off the field. Considering its quarterback looked like he should have been en route to the hospital instead of the huddle, Clemson's eight-play, 77-yard drive to tie the game (and eventually send it to overtime) did have the air of a forced march.
And still, the biggest blow of the night for Clemson came in the transition from the intensity and attrition of the final hour to the semantic whimper of an ending: Needing three to tie after Auburn led off the first overtime with a field goal, Clemson's first, successful kick was negated by an illegal snap – just a little twinge of the ball before it went back to the holder – setting up a wide-left miss on the re-kick. Game over. T-P that tree safely. Kyle Parker, please pick up your spleen from the 37-yard line.
As (literally) painful as the loss was for Clemson, under the circumstances, it may be Gene Chizik's most encouraging win at Auburn: After spending the first half tiptoeing through a meadow or something, the Tigers roared back from a big hole against a quality opponent, largely on big plays from the big arm of quarterback Cam Newton in his toughest start. Their only second-half comeback in 2009 was from a one-point deficit against West Virginia; faced with double-digit halftime holes against Arkansas and LSU, they went on to double-digit losses, and they blew second-half leads against Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama. It was a physically brutal game, but tonight's rally was the first time a Chizik team could be plausibly described as "mentally tough" in a dire situation. If they make it a habit – and we get more of Second-half Cam than first-half – the Tigers may have that SEC West run in them. A quick turnaround against 3-0 South Carolina should give us a pretty good hint.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.