NCF Nation: Coty Sensabaugh

Video: Clemson's Branch adds swagger

January, 2, 2012

Clemson CB Coty Sensabaugh interviews DE Andre Branch before the Discover Orange Bowl.

Clemson shakes big-game blues

September, 17, 2011

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Auburn’s 17-game winning streak is history, and so is Clemson’s history of coming up empty in big games.

Think this one didn't mean a little something extra to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney?

Granted, Swinney’s the excitable type. But go check out his postgame interview on

It was reminiscent of listening to the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair back in his glory days.

Certainly, it was a glorious day for Swinney’s Tigers, who blazed their way out of an early 14-0 hole and sent the defending national champions packing in a 38-24 victory that was a long time coming in these parts.

The Clemson players are well aware of the underachiever label that has been attached to this program for much of the past decade.

One game hardly makes a season, but there’s a genuine belief on this team that this game can help propel the Tigers to a special season.

[+] EnlargeCoty Sensabaugh
John Reed/US PresswireCoty Sensabaugh's fourth-quarter interception ended any chance of an Auburn comeback.
“I think we’re respected around the nation, but in the big games, we’ve always come up short ever since I can remember. Today was just our time, and we’re going to keep it going,” said Clemson senior cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, whose fourth-quarter interception all but sealed Auburn’s fate.

Auburn had made a living of doing the improbable in the fourth quarter this season, finding one way after another to survive.

Swinney had challenged his team before the game to make its own statement.

“I told our guys that they could either be victim number 18 or the guys who broke the streak,” said Swinney, who took delight in pointing out that it was an Alabama graduate who was in charge of breaking the streak. “There’s no better place to kill a winning streak than Clemson, S.C. I’m proud of everyone. Our guys believe.”

Clemson (3-0) had been anything but impressive its first two weeks, coming back from first-half deficits to beat Troy and Wofford.

The start of this game had a similar feel, as No. 21-ranked Auburn raced out to a 14-0 lead and then a 21-7 advantage.

“We’ve got the kind of offense that we’re never going to be out of the game,” said Clemson sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd, who torched Auburn’s reeling defense for a career-high 386 yards passing and four touchdowns.

“We’re going to keep coming at you, and we have a lot of guys that can make plays.”

Boyd, making just his third career start, was brilliant. He finished 30-of-42 and didn’t throw an interception.

Even after Clemson managed just 34 total yards in its first three offensive possessions, Boyd never panicked.

“We just had to find our groove, and once we did, we really did,” Boyd said.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTajh Boyd torched Auburn with 386 yards on 30-of-42 passing and four touchdowns.
Nobody on Auburn’s defense would disagree. Clemson converted 10 straight third downs at one point and finished with 624 yards in total offense, the third most in school history.

“This isn’t last year’s team,” Clemson junior tight end Dwayne Allen said. “If we’re going to lose, we’re going to lose with some points on the board ... not six field goals like years past.”

Added Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, “This is no fluke. This is what we’re supposed to do.”

Of course, it helps when you bring in a talent like Sammy Watkins, who had 199 combined receiving/rushing yards and is the early leader in the clubhouse for college football’s best true freshman receiver.

His speed is impressive. The way he delivers the blow, much like a running back, is even more impressive.

Watkins set Clemson records with 10 catches for 155 yards and had a pair of touchdowns. The only good look Auburn defensive backs got of him all day was from the backside.

“I wasn’t really thinking about records. I was just focusing on beating Auburn,” said Watkins, a highly rated prospect from Fort Myers, Fla., who could have gone anywhere in the country, but fell in love with Clemson’s small-town charm.

“I kept thinking, ‘We have to beat them.’ I wasn’t thinking about touchdowns. I wasn’t thinking about yards. I was just thinking, ‘We have to beat Auburn.’ ”

A year ago, it was Auburn coming back from a 17-0 deficit to beat Clemson in overtime.

The players on that Auburn team will tell you that it’s the game that sent them on their way to their national championship run.

Now, it’s Clemson’s turn to see what it can do with Swinney’s first real signature win outside the ACC.

The road sure doesn’t get any easier. The Tigers get Florida State at home next week and then Virginia Tech on the road on Oct. 1.

“This is the point where Auburn started to take off last year,” Boyd said. “Hopefully, we can do the same thing. We’ve got a tough road. We just have to keep working hard and keeping improving.”
As advertised ...

1. Florida State: The Noles have one of the best cornerback duos in the country in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. They combined for 33 passes defended last season, the most of any pair of cornerbacks in the nation. Mike Harris had 41 tackles and four picks as a reserve.

[+] EnlargeGreg Reid
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireFlorida State cornerback Greg Reid is also one of the ACC's top return men.
2. Virginia Tech: Jayron Hosley is one of the top boundary corners in the country, and the Hokies also have Kyle Fuller, who had six deflections last season, and Cris Hill (two deflections) at field corner.

3. Maryland: The Terps return both starters in Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes, who combined for 36 career starts. Chism is a strong cover corner who had 70 tackles and eight deflections last season. Hughes had nine pass deflections.

4. NC State: Both starters return in C.J. Wilson and David Amerson. Wilson had 46 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups, and Amerson had 57 tackles. Justin Byers and Gary Grant also have experience.

5. North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost some remarkable talent in their secondary, including cornerback Kendric Burney, but there is a lot of depth at the position. Jabari Price started four games last season, Charles Brown has 22 career starts but sat out last season, and Mywan Jackson and Tre Boston both have at least four starts each.

6. Boston College: The Eagles will miss DeLeon Gause, but Donnie Fletcher has 17 career starts, 56 tackles last season, and led the team with five picks. C.J. Jones played in 12 games as a backup last season with 16 tackles. Dominique Williams also saw some time and had four tackles, and true freshman Al Louis-Jean, who was the No. 9 cornerback in the nation as ranked by ESPN Recruiting, enrolled early.

7. Clemson: It’s a young group, as the Tigers had to replace Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell. Xavier Brewer had 10 starts with 50 tackles and two interceptions last season, Coty Sensabaugh had 31 tackles in three starts, and senior Mansa Joseph will also be competing for playing time with sophomore Martin Jenkins.

8. Virginia: The Cavaliers return both starters in Chase Minnifield and Devin Wallace, but Wallace was suspended and missed spring ball and is still suspended. Wallace had 38 tackles and six breakups last season. Chris Broadnax, Rijo Walker, Drequan Hoskey and Pablo Alvarez will all compete for playing time.

9. Miami: The Hurricanes have to replace both starters in Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill. Jo-Jo Nicholas moved to corner and Brandon McGee, who was the nickel back last season, will compete along with Lee Chambers, Keion Payne, Nathan Gholston and true freshman Thomas Finnie, who had a great spring.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets had to replace their entire secondary, including cornerbacks Mario Butler and Dominique Reese. They’ve still got several cornerbacks with experience in Rashaad Reid, who started 14 games in 2008 and 2009, Rod Sweeting (38 tackles, seven pass breakups, one interception), Louis Young (10 tackles), and Michael Peterson (six tackles, one pass breakup).

11. Wake Forest: The Deacs have a deep enough secondary that they can live without the experience of cornerback Kevin Johnson, who started five games last season but will sit out this season while academically ineligible. Josh Bush had 33 tackles and four pass breakups last season, Kenny Okoro is a rising star, A.J. Marshall has three starts and Dominique Tate returns after missing last season while on academic suspension.

12. Duke: Ross Cockrell is a returning starter and finished last season with 60 tackles and 10 passes defended. He was only a freshman but he tied for eighth in the ACC with passes defended with 10 in 12 games. Johnny Williams had four pass breakups last season.