The Clemson Insider grades each position group’s performance from second-ranked Clemson’s 54-0 win over Syracuse on Saturday in Death Valley.
We reserve the absolute top designation for uncommon performances that go above and beyond even the highest of reasonable expectations. For Clemson’s quarterbacks, Saturday was that kind of performance. Deshaun Watson began the game with an efficient and effective showing under center, accounting for three touchdowns before halftime. Then, when he got hurt just before halftime, Nick Schuessler entered the lineup and outperformed the expectations of fans and media members. Clemson’s emergency plan should Watson go down seems somewhat more feasible after Saturday’s game.
Running Backs: A
Clemson only averaged 4.4 yards per carry against a vulnerable Syracuse run defense, but its key contributors had fine games toting the rock on Saturday. Wayne Gallman only ran it ten times, but he gained 63 yards, including an impressive 30-yard gain. The second unit featured Tavien Feaster, who gained 28 yards on nine carries. C.J. Fuller ran hard between the tackles, while Adam Choice and Tyshon Dye had good moments with the ball in their hands. Pass protection wasn’t an issue, but it wasn’t expected to be against a weak Orange front.
Wide Receivers: A
If not for a couple of Mike Williams dropped passes, this might have been an A+ grade. Williams and Deon Cain each surpassed 100 yards, and each made tough catches throughout the game. Artavis Scott led the team with seven catches, while a bunch of other receivers cashed in one or two opportunities by receiving passes and getting extra yardage. Even Sean Mac Lain, one of the poster boys for the armed services on Clemson’s roster, had a catch in Saturday’s Military Appreciation Day contest.
Tight Ends: B+
Garrett Williams missed an opportunity to make a catch, but other than that, it was a solid day for Clemson’s tight ends. Jordan Leggett didn’t have any major issues paving the way for the Tigers’ running backs, which is a plus since his problems in that area are typically noticeable when they occur. Leggett caught two passes for 31 yards in Saturday’s game, including a big fourth-down conversion on a catch-and-run late in the first half that came courtesy of Schuessler.
Offensive Line: A-
After showing some troubling signs at times against the superior fronts of Florida State and NC State, the Clemson offensive line redeemed itself against Syracuse. Granted, the Orange are among the ACC’s worst teams at sacks and tackles for loss, but Clemson’s quarterbacks were upright all night long once again, and many of the six tackles for loss against the Tigers came courtesy of blitzes or busted plays by skill players. There were no long-term issues that revealed themselves in Saturday’s game for this group.
Defensive Line: A
My goodness, this unit is good. It’s so good, in fact, that Saturday’s high-quality performance seemed ho-hum in comparison to others from previous weeks. Dexter Lawrence and Carlos Watkins both had sacks in Saturday’s contest, and Jabril Robinson and Richard Yeargin also registered tackles for loss. Syracuse isn’t a run-heavy team, but the Orange have been better than they were in Clemson. Its 3.8 yards-per-carry average is misleading when considering that 49 of the team’s 105 rushing yards—roughly 47 percent of the team’s on-the-ground output—came on one run. Besides that, it was just over two yards per rush for Syracuse on the afternoon.
Ben Boulware’s demolition of Dontae Strickland in the first quarter (that was flagged by officials) set the tone for the entire game. Boulware had seven tackles in the game, while Kendall Joseph contributed four. Dorian O’Daniel added three, and both he and Boulware boasted a tackle for loss at game’s end. Even Jamie Skalski ended up with three tackles, including one for loss, in Saturday’s game. The linebacking corps shored up its highly-publicized coverage issues against an offense that has been known to exploit those mismatches.
Defensive Backs: A+
This crew was as good as it gets on Saturday. You don’t shut out Syracuse without emphatically putting the clamps on Syracuse’s passing game, and Clemson’s secondary did just that. Cordrea Tankersley had an interception and broke up a pass. Jadar Johnson racked up seven tackles and broke up a pass. More importantly, the Tigers picked off two additional passes. Ryan Carter baited Eric Dungey into a poor underneath throw early in Saturday’s contest, then freshman Tanner Muse—whose bone-crushing special teams hit was a highlight from the first half—finished off the Orange with an interception return for a touchdown.
Special Teams: B-
If there was a low point during Saturday’s ballgame, it probably happened on special teams. Greg Huegel missed an extra point and hit the upright from 40 yards away. Huegel’s kickoffs also weren’t great, and Andy Teasdall only averaged 37.5 yards on his two punts. However, Huegel did knock down two field goals—including a 46-yarder—and the kick coverage balanced out a couple of long returns with some big plays to pin Syracuse deep. It was a mixed bag in this regard, for sure.
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