The Clemson Insider grades each position group’s performance from third-ranked Clemson’s 26-7 win at Georgia Tech on Thursday.
Other than one interception—which, coincidentally, resulted in two points for Clemson via a safety—Deshaun Watson played a very good game in his home state. He completed two-thirds of his passes (28-for-42) for 304 yards and two touchdowns in a game packed with pressure given his injury in the same facility two years ago. He effectively used underneath passes to develop a rhythm with his receivers, taking what the defense gave him and not trying—for the most part—to force the issue. Prior to halftime, Watson completed 24 of his 35 passes for 262 yards and both scores, doing the bulk of his damage while the outcome of the game was very much in doubt.
Running Backs: B+
Clemson’s running game was just fine on Thursday, but that’s about as praiseworthy as the performance was. The team averaged 4.1 yards per carry and amassed 138 yards on the ground. However, when subtracting the contributions of Watson and receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, Wayne Gallman and Adam Choice combined to rush for 85 yards on 21 carries—a teeny tiny bit below that overall average. Neither back was able to break through the defense, but small chunks of yardage were generally available. As has become the expected standard, Gallman was excellent in blitz pickup, and he also caught three passes for 22 yards during the game.
Wide Receivers: A-
For the second straight game, the Clemson receivers did everything asked of them. Only one ball was dropped, and the player responsible—Ray-Ray McCloud—was the best skill player on the field for the Tigers on the night. Nine different players caught a pass, six of whom are actual wide receivers. Alongside McCloud (8-101) was Mike Williams, whose six-catch, 61-yard performance (that included a short touchdown) helped Clemson establish control in the game. A major development in the second half was the emergence of freshman Cornell Powell, who caught five balls for 44 yards in the game.
Tight Ends: A
This group was basically incognito for the first three games of the season, but it reemerged with a vengeance in this one. Specifically, Jordan Leggett got off to a fast start after being shut out in last week’s win over South Carolina State. He was targeted a handful of times and hauled in four passes for 31 yards and a touchdown. Unlike the last road experience, there were no major alignment or procedural issues that bogged down the offense. This has to be considered a bounce back game for Leggett and the rest of the tight end group.
Offensive Line: B
Inconsistency kept this grade from being any higher, but the performance overall was still better than average. Watson dropped back and threw 48 passes and was only sacked once against a defense known for finding creative ways to pressure the passer. That’s a win for the offensive front. There were some issues, however. On a good third-down day, the times Clemson failed to pick up the necessary yardage were largely short-yardage situations. In particular, Jake Fruhmorgen felt the wrath of Dabo after an especially difficult sequence. Lots of bodies went in and out, but this group certainly can play better.
Defensive Line: A
Completely, totally dominant. The Clemson defensive line eviscerated the Tech front, leaving only a steaming crater in its place. At every snap of the ball before halftime, the Tigers won each war of attrition at the point of attack. The Yellow Jackets typically don’t go backwards, so accumulating seven tackles for loss is no small feat. In passing downs, the pressure forced Justin Thomas to backpedal in perpetuity without any opportunity to set his feet. The only issues were a couple of offsides calls, but those were minor in the grand scheme of things.
The two leading tacklers on Clemson’s defense hailed from the linebacking corps—Ben Boulware (10) and Dorian O’Daniel (9). Both have factored heavily into the Georgia Tech gameplan before, and neither of them disappointed this time around. While those two accounted for nearly 39 percent of the team’s tackles, Kendall Joseph was disruptive from start to finish. Tre Lamar even got into the act late. Against the option, linebackers filling lanes and playing disciplined football is imperative, and the Tigers did that in this game. They held Georgia Tech to just 95 yards on 28 carries.
Defensive Backs: A
The secondary play was outstanding all night long, and it probably contributed to the good-looking games from each of the other two position groups. Every time Thomas dropped back to throw, he either had to hold the ball longer than he wanted or force it into coverage. As a team, Tech was 4-for-14 passing for 29 yards and an interception. That level of ineptitude speaks volumes for this unit. In addition, cornerbacks and safeties routinely beat blocks to make plays at or near the line of scrimmage against the run. Only a couple of poor penalties in coverage keep this from being an A+ grade.
Special Teams: B-
It’s hard to grade a player who has a night like Greg Huegel. The sophomore kicker missed a chip shot field goal from 27 yards away in the first quarter, seemingly for no reason, but then he connected on a career-best 47-yarder late in the game to ice it. His kickoffs were outstanding once again. Meanwhile, Andy Teasdall had a fine punting game, pinning four of his six kicks inside the Yellow Jackets’ 20. McCloud did a pretty solid job returning punts, albeit with a muffed punt he recovered himself.