AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn held No. 2 Clemson to 19 points in its season opener and had a chance to pull off the big-time upset. But despite an encouraging defensive effort, Gus Malzahn’s Tigers fell short.
After the game, senior defensive lineman and captain Montravius Adams told reporters that Auburn’s focus would be to keep improving as the season goes on. The Tigers’ next chance comes Saturday, when they take on Arkansas State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Offensively, all eyes will be on sophomore quarterback “starter” Sean White and running back Kerryon Johnson. Defensively, another solid performance will be expected. But sometimes the players with the potential to make the biggest impact aren’t always easy to determine.
RELATED: Photos from Auburn-Clemson game
Here are three players we are eager to watch in the game vs. the Red Wolves:
Senior QB Jeremy Johnson
Fans didn’t exactly welcome Johnson when he unexpectedly entered the game Saturday night. In fact, boos were heard from select fans each time he jogged onto the field.
But Johnson, who was the third quarterback to see action behind White and John Franklin III, at times seemed to be a viable option in the rotation.
The senior had 38 yards on four passes, with one of the completions being Auburn’s third-biggest pass play of the night (18 yards). Johnson also took two of the team’s four sacks. Still, the fact that he entered the game at all after last season was surprising.
Johnson has a different style than White and Franklin, but also has something those two don’t: size. The 6-foot-5 Johnson could play an important role if Malzahn keeps rotating quarterbacks.
Saturday’s game against Arkansas State should give Johnson a chance to play with less pressure, something he hasn’t handled well in the past. If he can take the first step against the Red Wolves, Johnson could be an important offensive piece moving forward.
Redshirt freshman DB Javaris Davis
Davis didn’t play last season, but he knew that was going to change in 2016.
He also was aware that because he would be playing opposite All-SEC freshman DB Carlton Davis (no relation), opponents were going to target him — and he was ready.
It started on Clemson’s initial drive on Saturday night. Deshaun Watson threw a slant pass Javaris’ way not even 30 seconds into the game. And he was alert, making his first of four tackles on Clemson’s second play. As the night went on though, Watson kept throwing Davis’ way, wearing down the inexperienced DB.
To senior DB Josh Holsey, one of the most experienced and versatile members of Auburn’s defense, nothing about Davis’ first time wearing an Auburn uniform was shocking.
“It’s hard, once you give up a ball they kind of look at that person and come back to that person again no matter who it is,” Holsey said. “So you just gotta make that play, you just gotta make a play or two and they’ll eventually stop trying to throw your way. So he’s young, he’s going to be a great player for us. Still, you just have to know that they’re going to catch balls, but eventually he’s going to have to get one or two of them so they stop throwing his way.”
Davis is arguably one of the most talented corners on the Auburn roster. Numerous coaches and players proclaimed Davis the fastest person on the team (4.18 40-yard dash time this spring) and the underclassman learned how to translate his speed to his technique this offseason. Last year, he had the benefit of studying Carlton Davis, Jeremiah Dinson and Rudy Ford from the sideline. This year, he has experience playing alongside them.
For Davis, the Arkansas State game is less about shining or making big plays — it’s about preparation. He can make adjustments and fix any mistakes before Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight (239 yards and 1 TD vs. UCLA) travels to Auburn in Week 3.
Freshman WR Kyle Davis
This Davis had a single catch vs. Clemson (43 yards), but his reception was the longest of any Auburn player. That’s impressive for a true freshman, but especially for one who has dealt with injuries since he arrived on the Plains earlier this year.
Davis missed time during the spring recovering from shoulder surgery and then was sidelined for most of Auburn’s preseason practices because of a procedure he had on his foot.
Still, Davis was the first freshman wideout from Malzahn’s heralded 2016 class (he was ranked a top 10 WR prospect in 247Sports’ composite rankings) to make an appearance and executed one of the only explosive plays of the game.
The play also momentarily shifted momentum back to Auburn at a key point in the fourth quarter, unfolding minutes after Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow sucked all the energy out of Jordan-Hare with a stirring touchdown catch that put Clemson up 19-6.
Auburn’s offense totaled just 175 total passing yards against Clemson. Moving forward, Davis should use his big body to his advantage when he has the chance.