ATLANTA — Kiehl Frazier made plenty of mistakes in his first college start. He also showed enough potential to persuade Auburn that it has the right guy at quarterback.
Frazier threw an early touchdown pass to Emory Blake but Auburn never got back to the end zone in the season opener, the Tigers settling for a bunch of field goals in a 26-19 loss to No. 14 Clemson on Saturday night.
Andre Ellington rushed for 231 yards and DeAndre Hopkins set a Clemson record with 13 receptions, including the game-winning touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.
Frazier passed for 194 yards but completed only 11 of 27, a percentage that will have to improve to keep the job he won in fall practice, beating out last year's starter Clint Moseley.
Coach Gene Chizik was encouraged.
"I'm very proud of Kiehl," Chizik said. "When you start your first game, you put a lot of pressure on yourself. He was escaping out there and got some critical first downs. We'll look at the film and find some things he needs to correct, but we feel he'll only get better."
The Auburn defense will need to get better, too.
Clemson's fast-break scheme didn't miss a beat without star receiver Sammy Watkins, who is suspended for the first two games after an offseason drug arrest. The Tigers piled up 320 yards rushing and 528 yards overall.
"Guys stepped up and filled the void for Sammy," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "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.
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.
"As the game went on, he got stronger," Chizik said. "He didn't miss a beat."
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 hooked up with Blake on a 54-yard touchdown pass, hitting the receiver in stride to put Auburn ahead 7-3 late in the first quarter. There were other flashes of potential, but the sophomore quarterback is still a work in progress.
"I did all right," Frazier said, "but I made a lot of mistakes and left some plays out there on the field."
Tre Mason led Auburn in rushing with 106 yards, yet there were breakdowns on an offensive line that had two new starting tackles, each playing their first college game.
Both teams kicked four field goals. Cody Parkey connected from 37, 46, 27 and 36 yards for Auburn, the last of them putting his team ahead with 12:50 remaining. Chandler Catanzaro was just as accurate for Clemson, booting it through from 24, 40, 37 and 18 yards.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Boyd threw behind tight end Sam Cooper, the ball bouncing off his hands and right to Auburn linebacker Daren Bates for an interception. He returned it to the Clemson 35.
Mason ran it three times, taking the ball inside the Clemson 10, but a crucial holding penalty on Greg Robinson, a redshirt freshman starting at left tackle, cost the Tigers a chance for a much-needed TD. They wound up settling for yet another field goal by Parkey.
That wasn't enough to hold off Clemson.
"Turnovers and not taking advantage of red-zone opportunity was the main difference," Mason said.
Boyd broke off a 27-yard run after faking a handoff out of the shotgun and scrambled for another first down on third-and-5, keeping the drive going with a 10-yard gain. Ellington slid around right end for 8 yards, then took off up the middle for a 9-yard run. Finally, on first-and-goal at the Auburn 4, Clemson stuck it in the end zone.
Boyd took one step back and floated a pass toward the corner. Even though cornerback Chris Davis grabbed at Hopkins, drawing a flag, the junior receiver went up and got it, corkscrewing his body and getting a foot down before he tumbled out of bounds.
Clemson gave the maligned Atlantic Coast Conference a much-needed win over an SEC opponent on the second of back-to-back openers at the Georgia Dome between the two leagues. Tennessee romped past North Carolina State 35-21 the previous night, a game marred by the death of a 20-year-old fan who fell out of the upper deck.
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