TCI gives out its grades by position group for second-ranked Clemson’s 30-24 win over Troy on Saturday…
There is more at play here than simply the way Deshaun Watson performed. In fact, perhaps the most eye-raising aspect of Saturday’s game is that no other quarterback saw the field. We can’t assume that was the plan heading into action, but that’s how the game transpired. Watson attempted 53 passes, far more than he should have had to throw in a game like this. He wasn’t particularly accurate or sure of himself. Even so, he still threw into coverage several times, resulting in a pair of interceptions and several near-misses. Much of the blame isn’t on his shoulders (more on that in a bit) but Watson only completed more than three passes in a row once in the game. At one point in the third quarter, he missed on eight of nine throws—and the completion went for a loss of one yard. Only two of those were drops. Watson did run for 55 yards, but it didn’t make up for a head-scratching day flinging the pigskin.
Running Backs: C
There isn’t much of an explanation as to why Wayne Gallman only ran the ball nine times. Perhaps the coaches wanted to give him a break after he was the quintessential workhorse last week at Auburn. At any rate, Clemson’s running game was never firmly established in the game. The Tigers’ tailbacks combined for 68 yards on 19 carries, a modest average of 3.6 yards per carry. There were other factors involved, but the tailbacks didn’t exactly set the world on fire. The group caught five passes for 24 yards and were targeted six times, as well.
Wide Receivers: D+
Watson couldn’t have completed 27 passes without some nice plays from these guys, but the incessant drops were a consistent issue from start to finish in the game. Four different receivers were credited with one drop, and there were a few other plays where catchable balls were ripped from a receiver’s hands. The bright spot was Ray-Ray McCloud, who atoned for an early mistake by catching seven balls for 86 yards. Deon Cain also had seven catches for 71 yards, but he failed to come back to the ball on a Watson interception. Hunter Renfrow hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass, but he also had a drop in the game and suffered a right hand injury.
Tight Ends: C
They weren’t noticeably bad like they were last week at Auburn, which is a step in the right direction. Jordan Leggett caught the first pass of the game from Watson, but he was only targeted twice more after that and failed to snag either one of those throws. No one else caught a pass from the tight end group. It was a nondescript day, but because they didn’t grab the spotlight for a negative reason, this unit gets a decidedly “meh” grade.
Offensive Line: D+
Maybe it was the lack of chemistry that early substitutions—a better description might be “line changes” can cause. Maybe it was the effects of a defense hell-bent on destruction. Maybe it was a by-product of issues at every other position on offense. Whatever the reason, the Clemson offensive line just simply was not up to par today. Watson had to escape the pocket a bunch. The running game was nonexistent, most surprisingly so in short yardage situations. Yes, there were young players out there at times, but not enough to cause that many issues over an entire game.
Defensive Line: B+
It was a solid showing by this group. Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence both had seven tackles apiece and combined for two tackles for loss. Wilkins added a pass deflection. Richard Yeargin and Albert Huggins both amassed three tackles during the game. The principle concern was the lack of negative yardage plays compared to last week, but a lot of that has to do with Troy’s offensive scheme. Quick throws and quick hitter runs are designed to eliminate negative plays by getting to and past the line of scrimmage almost immediately. Getting seven tackles for loss against that kind of system means some good things were happening up front.
Let’s start with the interceptions. All three of Clemson’s forced turnovers came courtesy of linebackers picking off passes—Kendall Joseph, Dorian O’Daniel, and Jalen Williams. Much of the stress put on this group was in coverage, not exactly a strength of some of the primary playmakers in the group. Given that this challenge played more to Clemson’s linebackers’ weaknesses instead of their strengths, what they did was even more impressive. Ben Boulware held his own with four tackles before leaving with an injury, but the linebackers didn’t really miss a beat with him out. That was a bit surprising, too.
Defensive Backs: B
Troy’s receivers made some unbelievable plays in coverage. One could argue they were as good, or even better, than Clemson’s receivers during the game. That’s why it’s hard to be too tough on this very young group for giving up 245 yards through the air. Cordrea Tankersley had three of the Tigers’ six pass breakups during the game and played very well at times. There were some late opportunities to end drives that were squandered because of pass interference penalties. The best news for the secondary is that freshmen K’Von Wallace and Trayvon Mullen got some snaps under their respective belts for the first time.
Special Teams: C-
First, the good: Greg Huegel made all three short- and mid-range kicks with ease, along with all three of his extra points. Ray-Ray McCloud averaged 32 yards on three punt returns, including a 74-yarder. Andy Teasdall pinned the Trojans inside the 20 once. Now, the bad: McCloud inexplicably dropped the football at the goal line before he scored, leading to a touchback and costing Clemson both possession of the ball and seven easy points. Teasdall gave Troy the ball at its own 49 or worse twice and had a 25-yard punt on another occasion. His best punt in terms of yardage was a touchback. To summarize, special teams wasn’t a complete disaster, but it wasn’t a thing of beauty, either.