Headset antics at Auburn showed the competitive fire of Dabo Swinney
Swinney asks Jamie Harper a question during the 2010 game at Auburn.

Headset antics at Auburn showed the competitive fire of Dabo Swinney

by - Senior Writer -

The game at Auburn in 2010 stands out for many reasons, but it later showed just how much Dabo Swinney remembers about his losses.

We’ve been going through and taking a look at some the games that have marked the Swinney era, and to date it’s been two losses that we’ve looked at as a way of setting the stage for Swinney and the program’s progression.

I wrote about the loss to UNC In 2010, but a friend reminded me about the loss at Auburn in early September and I thought this would be a good time to go back and revisit the overtime game on The Plains.

Clemson was 2-0 heading into the contest but wins over North Texas and Presbyterian had not provided much of a test. Auburn started the season ranked 22nd but had moved up to No. 16 with wins over Arkansas St. and Mississippi St.

Auburn defeated Clemson 27-24 on a hot, muggy evening in Jordan-Hare in a game that Clemson fans will forever remember as the night a longsnapper flinched and the headsets went out. Clemson was 2-0 heading into the game, but the mental and physical pounding taken in the loss led to a three-game losing streak. Clemson finished the season with a 6-7 record after a desultory loss to South Florida in a meaningless bowl game.

As I’ve written before, this game brings back memories for so many reasons. One of them is that even though I had covered the 2009 ACC Championship Game in Tampa (the loss to GT in which neither team punted), this was really the first big game atmosphere in covering Clemson as a member of TigerNet for me.

Three hours before the start of the game, there was already a buzz surrounding the stadium. It was a Blue Out and the students turned out by the thousands. They were loud and they were an absolute force. I’ve told anyone that will listen that was one of the best college football atmospheres I’ve ever seen. Others who were at that game have agreed with me – it’s hard to top the Auburn crowd that night. It was big-time college football at its best and might now only be surpassed by Clemson and Notre Dame in terms of the electricity inside the stadium.

For some dumb reason, another thing stands out – ESPN unveiled its 3D technology at the game, and the members of the media were allowed to take 3D glasses and watch portions of the game in 3D. I stood with ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit (he called that game) and watched halftime highlights in 3D.

It’s also the night the headsets went out as Auburn (probably) used a little home cooking to gain an advantage.

Clemson’s defense was holding Cam Newton in check when the headsets went out, which is apparently a common occurrence for opponents at Jordan-Hare. The headsets for Clemson’s defensive coaches went out on the second play of the third quarter, and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was forced to make adjustments based off of what he was seeing from the sidelines. Auburn ran off 21 consecutive points to take a 24-17 lead, and poof, the headsets started working again.

As I’ve heard from coaches over the years about this game, this wasn’t the first time and it wasn’t the last that the headsets went out for an opponent at Jordan-Hare. And there is no doubt that it played a big factor in their win.

Many fans will remember that quarterback Kyle Parker took a cheap shot in the back from Auburn defensive lineman Nic Fairley in that game. Parker came to the sideline spitting up blood, but young Tajh Boyd was untested and Parker went back in to play. However, it wouldn't be a stretch to say the talented Parker was never the same after that hit. Auburn won in overtime, and Swinney said the right things after the loss but nothing really stood out. Not then.

Before the start of the 2011 season, with a bevy of new recruits on hand (Sammy Watkins, Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward, Charone Peake, Adam Humphries, Martavis Bryant, and Grady Jarrett to name a few) there was cautious enthusiasm surrounding the program. In those days, there wasn’t a big media presence and once the August camp ended and interviews were complete, Swinney offered me a ride back to my car on his golf cart. I remarked to him that his team was beginning to look like the kind of team that competes for championships, and he smiled and said, “If teams are gonna get us, they better get us now.”

That confidence stayed with me.

Both teams were 2-0 when Auburn rolled into town, but Clemson had defeated Wofford by a score of 35-27 the week before and there were questions and concerns. In fact, the Terriers trailed by just one point entering the fourth quarter, were up 21-13 in the second quarter and tied with Clemson 21-21 at the half.

Clemson had a new offensive coordinator in Chad Morris and quarterback Tajh Boyd was still trying to get comfortable with the offense. Auburn was the defending national champs and owned the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 games.

The streak ended thanks to a 386-yard, four-touchdown afternoon from Boyd and 155 receiving yards from freshman sensation Sammy Watkins. In all, the Tigers (3-0) amassed 624 yards, while outscoring Auburn 31-3 from the midway part of the second quarter on.

Swinney was animated in his postgame comments.

“I can’t think of a better place to end a streak than at Death Valley, South Carolina, baby!” That’s what an emotional Swinney yelled to an ESPN sideline reporter after the game that afternoon. It was the first of his many post-game theatrics to come, but they stood out to me.

While some called him a cheerleader and others derided him for those theatrics, I saw a competitive coach who remembered the game from the year before and who doesn’t like to lose.

The dynasty was building. One game at a time.

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