By Gray Gardner.
Time to pass out the grades for the Tigers loss to North Carolina.
Kyle Parker played a much better game Saturday than he did a week earlier against the Hurricanes. His throws were more accurate as he completed 21 out of his 38 pass attempts. It should be noted that 5 of those incompletions were drops by his wide receivers. Parker ended the day with 274 yards through the air and 1 touchdown. Despite that success, there were several times when Parker missed the open receiver and tried to force throws. He was lucky that his 74-yard touchdown pass to Jaron Brown was not intercepted. Parker also fled the pocket way too many times, often resulting in him throwing the ball out of bounds.
RUNNING BACK: C
The running backs combined for only 23 carries in Saturday’s game. Andre Ellington continued to run well, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. However, his limited number of attempts did not allow him to get into a rhythm. Jamie Harper improved from a week ago, hitting holes more downfield rather than dancing and trying to avoid defenders. Harper averaged only 2.5 yards a carry on 11 attempts. He did break free for a 10-yard score late in the third quarter that put the Tigers back in the ballgame. This group will have to get more touches if the Clemson offense wants to be successful.
WIDE RECEIVER: C-
Overall there was more consistency with this group than there had been in the first four games of the season. The younger receivers came out and proved that they have what it takes to make plays. However, there were several drops in key situations that killed the momentum on a couple of drives. As a wide receiver, your number one job is to catch the ball. These guys are young, but still – catching the ball is the same regardless of your age. The wide outs also need to continue to work on creating separation in the secondary. Right now they are not running good enough routes to get open. This should come with more experience.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C+
The offensive line has been the most consistent position group on the offensive side of the ball. They struggled at times a week ago against a very talented defensive front from Miami. Last Saturday the big uglies improved on their pass protection but still struggled to generate a push at the point of contact. There have been too many 3rd and short, 4th and short situations this season with very few conversions. This could be a lack of toughness on the offensive line’s part or it could be scheme. Regardless, this group will have to play more physical if they want to dominate teams up front.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C+
The defensive line has been a strength on the Clemson defense all season, mainly due to DaQuan Bowers’ outstanding play. However, they struggled to stop the run Saturday against a hardly mediocre running attack. They over pursued plays, often allowing giant holes for North Carolina running back Johnny White to run through. Bowers played well again Saturday with 2 sacks but also had an offsides penalty late in the game that helped UNC convert on a 4th down. This group will need to continue to improve to help an impoverished linebacking corps.
Statistically speaking, the linebackers had one of their better games Saturday. This is mainly due to the fact that North Carolina ran the ball 32 times. Corico Hawkins and Brandon Maye each finished with 7 tackles, Quandon Christian with 6. But North Carolina’s success running the football is a direct indication of the linebackers’ play. Yes, the defensive line will have to create more of a surge in the backfield to help stop the run. But once they take on blockers, it’s the linebackers’ job to plug holes and make plays on the ball carrier. They were not successful in doing this Saturday. The Tar Heels ran the ball at will it seemed like. This group will have to mature if the Tigers hope to go on a run to finish the season.
DEFENSIVE BACK: C-
One busted coverage by Rashard Hall and a couple of penalties was enough to ruin this group’s performance on every other play. North Carolina quarterback TJ Yates completed just over half of his passes but seemed to be 100% in attempts at crucial moments. The cornerbacks played loose coverage on a couple of 3rd and short plays and allowed completions underneath their coverage. A defensive holding penalty and then another pass interference penalty that voided an interception showed a lack of discipline and “smartness” as Dabo Swinney called it. This group has to improve on missed assignments and work to not give up the big play.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Dawson Zimmerman continued to punt well with a long of 51 yards and 2 punts inside the 20-yard line – one of which was downed inside the 1-yard line. Chandler Catanzaro nailed a 48-yard field goal but also missed a 42-yarder later in the game. Matt Skinner skipped another snap back to the holder on one of those field goals, something that he has been notorious for so far in his career at Clemson. DeAndre Hopkins was electric on one punt return he had of 31 yards. This group certainly didn’t lose the game for the Tigers, but they didn’t do enough to help win it.
COACHING STAFF: F
Yes, it’s true. The staff deserves an F for their coaching of this game. The players were not prepared to play hard for four quarters. Offensively the play calling was extremely predictable and often left fans scratching their heads. Andre Ellington will have to receive more than 12 touches if the offense wants to be successful. Jamie Harper has not proven that he can be the go-to running back and does not deserve the amount of carries he has received. The staff will have to control this better. Defensively it was more of the same – busted coverage in the secondary and bad run defense up front. At some point the blame has to shift from the linebackers to the coaches. Dabo Swinney fell on the sword and said the team was not very well coached right now and that the staff will have to improve. That appears to be an understatement looking back the past two games.