ATLANTA (AP) — Sammy who? Andre Ellington and DeAndre Hopkins made sure Clemson didn't miss its star receiver.
With Sammy Watkins back home serving a two-game suspension for a drug arrest, the No. 14 Tigers still showed plenty of offense in their opener Saturday night. Ellington rushed for 231 yards, while Hopkins set a school record with 13 receptions, including the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter for a 26-19 victory over Auburn.
The fast-break offense of coordinator Chad Morris carried on just fine without Watkins, piling up 320 yards rushing and 528 yards overall.
"We had to fill that void collectively as a group, and we did that," coach Dabo Swinney said. "Guys stepped up, and filled the void for Sammy. When he's on the field, obviously he can impact the game. But we're proud of how the team picked up the slack."
Playing before a 50-50 crowd at the Georgia Dome — basically halfway between the two campuses — Clemson shook off any hangover from last season's embarrassing 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, though it wasn't easy.
The second half was a battle of field goals before Tajh Boyd lofted a 4-yard touchdown pass to Hopkins, who made a brilliant, twisting catch in the corner of the end zone with 9:17 to go. The junior finished with 119 yards receiving.
"I was in a great zone, like I always am," said Hopkins, who broke the record of 12 receptions set by Airese Currie against Middle Tennessee State in 2003. "Coach Morris had a great game plan to get playmakers the ball and spread it around, and that's what he did."
"No one is celebrating more than Sammy Watkins back in Clemson," Swinney added.
Ellington broke off a couple of long runs to set up a chip-shot field goal with just over a minute remaining for the final margin. Auburn got the ball back one more time, but with only one timeout. The Southeastern Conference team didn't even get it across midfield, the game ending on a desperate heave by new quarterback Kiehl Frazier.
The 5-foot-10 Ellington scooted around and through the Auburn defense on 26 carries, the longest of them a 68-yarder that set up Clemson's first touchdown.
"I certainly didn't get it all on my own," Ellington said. "I'm just thankful to have a great line in front of me."
Boyd did his part, too, completing 24 of 34 for 208 yards and carrying the ball 19 times for 58 yards. Clemson made life miserable for new Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who returned to the stadium where he spent the past four seasons with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.
"Our credit goes to the guys up front," Swinney said. "When you rush for 320 yards and win the turnover margin, you're going to win a bunch of ballgames."
Frazier had a 54-yard touchdown pass to Emory Blake, hitting the receiver in stride to put Auburn ahead 7-3 late in the first quarter. The sophomore, who beat out last year's starter, Clint Mosey, for the job in fall camp, showed plenty of potential but is still a work in progress. Frazier passed for 194 yards despite completing just 11 of 27.