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Making the Grades: No. 3 Clemson 37, No. 14 Florida State 34

Oct 29, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA;  Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks to throw the ball during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

The Clemson Insider gives out grades by position group from third-ranked Clemson’s 37-34 win over 14th-ranked Florida State in Tallahassee on Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Quarterbacks: B 

This was far from Deshaun Watson’s best game. He missed some wide open receivers on downfield throws by a substantial margin. He took a couple of unnecessary sacks in key moments. He threw two interceptions by misreading underneath coverage—including a similar play to the one that led to the pick-six against NC State two weeks ago—that led directly to 14 FSU points. However, Watson was efficient early and effective late to pace Clemson’s victory. He got more aggressive as the game went on, as well. Nine of Watson’s first 11 completions went for nine or fewer yards, but his final eight completions picked up at least 11 yards, including the game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leggett. For the game, Watson was 27-for-43 for 378 yards and two touchdowns. He also made an impact in the run game, picking up 52 yards on 17 carries.

Running Backs: A-

Wayne Gallman was the only tailback to impact Saturday’s showdown, and he played a solid all-around game. Gallman ran the ball 20 times for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns and caught one pass for two yards. He was only stopped twice for zero or negative yardage, a major reason why he was able to grind out just over four yards per carry in the game. Once again, Gallman’s high-level pass protection allowed Watson to stay upright for a few precious seconds over the course of the contest. It wasn’t the most spectacular performance, but it got the job done.

Wide Receivers: A

Clemson’s wideouts made plays over and over again in Saturday night’s matchup. Watson’s favorite targets were Mike Williams (10) and Hunter Renfrow (7), who responded with a combined 12 catches for 132 yards. Renfrow caught the game’s first touchdown pass midway through the first quarter. Artavis Scott brought in all four of his targets for 33 yards, while Deon Cain had two catches for 69 yards, including a 40-yarder that ended up as Clemson’s second-longest play of the night. The downfield blocking was better again against the Seminoles, although still not quite up to par compared to last year’ exceptional unit in that regard. Also, there were no noted drops on the stat sheet.

Tight Ends: A

Jordan Leggett was the only player exposed from this position group, and he delivered with an outstanding performance. His run blocking and protection in the passing game wasn’t necessarily ideal, but Leggett had a monster game catching balls. He had five receptions on eight targets for a career-high 122 yards and the game-winning touchdown. It’s hard to imagine him playing much better, especially on Clemson’s final drive when he had three catches for 70 yards and a score.

Offensive Line: C+

The task was difficult for this group, as it had to face off against arguably the Seminoles’ most talented set of personnel on the field up front. The performance was shaky, as Watson was sacked four times—more than one-third of his total for the season including Saturday’s game—and there still wasn’t any explosiveness in the running game. Taylor Hearn was called for a false start, while Mitch Hyatt was whistled for holding once to negate a positive play. Florida State had catastrophic issues up front, so by comparison, Clemson looked better and cleaner than its counterparts. However, it doesn’t seem nitpicky to think there were aspects of this crew’s performance that could have been better.

Defensive Line: A

Against an overmatched offensive line, this group did what it was supposed to do. Among the multitude of players who contributed, there were a combined four sacks and six tackles for loss, as pressure was applied to Deondre Francois all game long. Tackling Dalvin Cook is not easy, so to hold him to zero or negative yardage on about one-quarter of his carries is impressive. Austin Bryant had a pair of sacks, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence combined on a late one, and Clelin Ferrell also got to Francois one time. It’s hard to ignore the Wilkins-Lawrence lead blocking combination in short yardage, too, or the way the pre-snap shifting at the line baited the Seminoles into a number of false starts throughout the game.

Linebackers: B-

This group is baffling to grade. On one hand, Kendall Joseph and Ben Boulware were the team’s top two tacklers, while Dorian O’Daniel was tied for third. They supplied constant pressure to Francois, with Joseph actually knocking him out of the game with a crushing hit to the sternum in the second half. Boulware sacked Francois on the Noles’ final offensive snap. On the other hand, the second unit was missing in run support on Cook’s biggest plays. (I’ll need to know the call to rule out an end or corner, but it appeared to be an issue of linebackers being slow to get outside on each of those occasions to turn Cook up the field.) Any time one of them was locked up in coverage with a back or tight end, it was a mismatch. Cook dropped a potential touchdown pass after beating Boulware on a wheel route. There was a lot of good and bad to digest with this crew, but their consistent pounding of Francois for four quarters and the effect it seemed to have bumps this grade up a little bit from where I thought it would be.

Defensive Backs: B

This was not the easiest assignment for Clemson’s coverage players. Florida State has talented wideouts, even with Bobo Wilson on the sidelines, and the Seminoles quickly figured out that the Tigers would play physically in coverage in one-on-one situations. Penalties against covering defenders ignited Florida State drives all night long. The loss of Jadar Johnson was big for this group, as no one really stepped up to replace his steadiness in the second half after his interception and subsequent injury. This had to do with the pass rush, too, but Francois completed just shy of half of his throws. That’s a win for the secondary, especially since that number was suppressed by an interception and three deflections—two of which came from defensive backs.

Special Teams: A-

It’s always harder to make these plays in hostile road environments. Apparently Greg Huegel disagrees because he continues to nail important kicks. The second-year starter is now 16-for-17 in road venues during his career after makes from 23, 34, and 46 yards in Saturday’s contest. His pressurized field goal in the game’s waning minutes was one of the matchup’s finest moments. Huegel’s kickoffs were also effective in limiting Florida State’s return game. Against perhaps the nation’s worst punt return defense, Ray Ray McCloud lost eight yards in his only opportunity. Artavis Scott really didn’t get a chance to do much on kickoff returns. Andy Teasdall had one short punt, but two of his four landed inside the 20—a respectable day for any punter.

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