The Clemson Insider gives out its grades for each position group’s performance in Clemson’s 24-17 overtime victory over NC State on Saturday.
The third-ranked Tigers won the game when Marcus Edmond intercepted a Ryan Finley pass to the end zone on the Wolfpack’s only possession in overtime. Clemson scored the game-winning touchdown when Deshaun Watson found Artavis Scott in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown earlier in overtime.
This wasn’t Deshaun Watson’s finest hour, but he was quite good after making the critical mistake that threw Saturday’s game into upheaval. Besides the interception that turned into a 29-yard touchdown on the first play of the third quarter—quite the asterisk to place on a performance—Watson was incredibly good throughout the afternoon. He completed 39 of his 52 pass attempts—an impressive 75 percent clip—for 378 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. He was also able to grind out some yardage on the ground, picking up 35 yards on 13 carries.
Running Backs: D
When Wayne Gallman went down with an injury early in Saturday’s game, the rest of the running backs were given a golden opportunity to make a positive impression. Instead, the lack of quality depth behind Gallman was exposed for all the world to see. Presumed second-stringer Adam Choice only had 14 yards on five carries. Tyshon Dye fumbled near the end zone on his only carry. C.J. Fuller averaged only about 3.5 yards per carry on his 16 attempts. As a group, the running backs managed only 81 yards on 24 attempts—an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Plus, the pass protection and receiving provided wasn’t up to par with Gallman’s usual contribution.
Wide Receivers: B+
This group made quite a few plays in Saturday’s game that allowed Watson to have the kind of game he enjoyed. Mike Williams caught a dozen balls for 146 yards, a monster game even when factoring in the fumble he lost that flipped both the field and momentum in the Wolfpack’s favor. Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud both caught a half-dozen passes for a combined 104 yards. One of Artavis Scott’s four catches resulted in the game-winning touchdown, and he had the only dropped pass out of 52 by a Clemson receiver.
Tight Ends: B+
Jordan Leggett made one particular play that boosted his standing in this game. In overtime, he made his fifth catch of the afternoon by sliding to pick up 11 yards down to the one-yard line. Leggett was Clemson’s second-leading receiver in Saturday’s matchup with the Wolfpack, totaling 56 yards for the game. In addition, both he and Garrett Williams proved useful as run blockers at various points in the game.
Offensive Line: C
Something still isn’t quite right with this group, even when considering the high-caliber front four NC State brought into Saturday’s game. Because of all the shuffling early in the season, the offensive line probably should have taken longer to gel. At this point, though, there are simply too many mistakes happening up front. Pass protection hasn’t been bad, but the bread and butter of a good offensive line—the ability to pick up critical first downs or touchdowns in short-yardage situations—just isn’t there right now.
Defensive Line: B
For a while, the Wolfpack really struggled to get anything going on the ground, even featuring a strong tailback in Matt Dayes. Credit goes to the defensive front for that. However, at the end of the game, as the final result hung in the balance, Dayes and the NC State front appeared to wear down the Tigers in the trenches. The Wolfpack rushed for 128 yards on 32 carries, but many of those yards came at the end of the football game. Four different linemen did end up with sacks, and the group totaled 4.5 tackles for loss. Clelin Ferrell had four of Clemson’s six quarterback pressures by himself. All in all, it was a solid day’s work for this crew.
The stat sheet doesn’t quite tell the story here. Clemson’s top two tacklers were Kendall Joseph and Ben Boulware, with 11 and 10, respectively. However, the second level of Clemson’s defense typically sets the tone, and the tone set on Saturday wasn’t exactly an edgy one. Tackling wasn’t as good as it has been for most of the season. Much like Louisville did, the Wolfpack exposed weaknesses in underneath coverage. It wasn’t all bad, but the confusion and tentativeness that manifested itself on the field from the linebacking corps isn’t normal.
Defensive Backs: A
These guys stole the show. When a team throws the ball 42 times and the defense is hardly called for any holding or pass interference penalties, it’s impressive. When a team totals six pass breakups and two interceptions, it’s a big deal. Clemson’s secondary members played well against a team that seemed to scheme to mask its quarterback’s lack of arm strength by making sure receivers had a chance to get plenty of room to maneuver. K’Von Wallace was responsible for Ryan Finley’s first interception of the season, while Marcus Edmond stole the show with the game-ending pick in the end zone.
Special Teams: C+
Clemson wouldn’t have lost Saturday’s game because of special teams, but the kicking and return games didn’t help the cause much at all. Greg Huegel made his kicks, but he was never really tested. Andy Teasdall averaged merely 26 yards per punt, including an 18-yarder that sucked the life out of the stadium prior to NC State’s final drive in regulation. Artavis Scott never found much room on kick returns, and Ray-Ray McCloud muffed a fair catch. Now the good news: Christian Wilkins moved the chains on a fake punt and blocked a field goal. Those two plays can’t be totally ignored. It was still a shaky day in this category for the Tigers.