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Making the Grade: Pittsburgh 43, No. 2 Clemson 42

Nov 12, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers linebacker Dorian O'Daniel (6) attempts to bring down Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) during the second half at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

There was plenty of good and bad to break down from second-ranked Clemson’s 43-42 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Clemson Insider gave out grades to each position group on the Tigers’ squad based on the way they performed…

Quarterbacks: C+

This is a complicated week to grade the quarterback. Deshaun Watson had the single most productive game in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Seemingly all alone at times, he willed Clemson’s offense down the field by making some tough throws. He completed a whopping 52 passes in 70 attempts, an absurd workload for a passer who operates in an offense that purports to try to run the ball. However, he also put the ball in jeopardy in the end zone twice for interceptions that cost Clemson anywhere from six to 14 points. One could argue he was also the reason the Tigers lost. Given the extremes of his performance, this seems like an appropriate grade.

Running Backs: C+

Saturday wasn’t an easy day to grade the running backs, either. Given the personnel issues up front and Pitt’s strong front four, moving the ball on the ground wasn’t going to be easy for the Tigers. Still, it’s hard to give a grade much higher than this when the tailbacks average just more than two yards per carry, even if Wayne Gallman punched the ball into the end zone three times. His contributions to the scoring help offset some of the difficulty the running backs had getting any momentum going.

Wide Receivers: A

This was, by far, the simplest group to grade. Mike Williams and Artavis Scott each had monster days where both set personal records and further entrenched themselves into program lore. Hunter Renfrow played at his peak performance level, keeping drives alive and grabbing balls with a high degree of difficulty. Deon Cain caught a touchdown, as well, even though he wasn’t as big of a factor as some of the other guys. Blocking from this group was better, as well.

Tight Ends: B

Jordan Leggett played a very good game as a pass-catcher. He finished third on the team in receiving yards and fourth in catches during Saturday’s affair. There were no issues there. In fact, the senior was magnificent when called upon to deliver downfield. However, when there are issues running between the tackles in Clemson’s offense, the tight end draws a portion of the blame. This wasn’t Leggett’s finest performance in that regard.

Offensive Line: C-

It makes sense to treat this group with kid gloves a little bit. Jake Fruhmorgen has been banged up and missed Saturday’s game due to a personal issue. Mitch Hyatt barely played due to an injury suffered early in action. That meant a pair of true freshmen—Tremayne Anchrum and Sean Pollard—were holding down the fort at the tackle spots. Given that concern and the presence of Ejuan Price on the edge, the fact that Watson was only sacked twice isn’t insignificant. However, the inability to move the ball on the ground in key moments was a major shortcoming in this game. Playcalling didn’t exactly help by directing runs toward the edges, where the Tigers were clearly weaker.

Defensive Line: B-

Pittsburgh wanted to run the ball, and the Panthers did. They averaged 4.7 yards per carry. James Conner surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground. The Tigers got pushed around a little bit, partially due to both a big Pitt front and uncertainty triggered by the Panthers’ high level of execution in its multifaceted offense. Still, many of the biggest plays—Dexter Lawrence’s blocked field goal and Carlos Watkins’ sack come to mind—came from front-line players on defense.

Linebackers: D-

This group had a ton of tackles, but the rest of the performance was a borderline disaster. The shovel option was basically a sure thing all day because of how slowly the second level of Clemson’s defense reacted. Issues in man-to-man coverage popped up over and over again. The looks the Panthers were showing the Tigers were effective early, which led to paralysis later in the game. An overall sense of uncertainty made these guys incapable of making impact plays for most of the game.

Defensive Backs: C+

There were both highs and lows from this group. It’s hard to get a fair read on how they played because a few of the penalties they were called for seemed to be pretty questionable. One of the big-play touchdowns the Panthers converted was a direct result of a coverage bust from a defensive back. When Nathan Peterman throws for five touchdowns, there’s enough blame to go around for the Clemson secondary. This group wasn’t that bad as a whole—especially since they had to bail out the linebackers in coverage a ton during the game—but it’s tough to give a better grade than this.

Special Teams: B

It was a simple afternoon for Clemson’s special teams unit. Andy Teasdall did well with his three punt attempts, pinning the Panthers deep in their own territory twice. Otherwise, much of the Tigers’ special teams prowess was about what didn’t happen. Quadree Henderson—the nation’s top kick returner—only got one opportunity and gained only 16 yards. Besides that, the Tigers had a so-so time getting an edge against a well-coached special teams unit from Pittsburgh.

Photo  Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

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