Time to hand out the TCI grades for the loss to Boston College. The Tigers laid an egg as they tried to win their first ACC game on the road this year in order to stay in the race for the Atlantic Division.
Kyle Parker did not lose the game for the Tigers, but he certainly did not help his team. He averaged a meager 4.4 yards per pass and ended with zero touchdowns and 2 interceptions – one of which was thrown on Clemson’s final drive, sealing the victory for Boston College. Parker continued to show a lack of pocket presence, often scrambling rather than stepping into the pocket. He also exhibited poor decision-making by forcing some of his passes. Although he didn’t receive much help from his receivers, many of his passes lacked accuracy and finesse and were uncatchable anyway.
RUNNING BACK: B-
The running back position is hard to grade when it is basically nonexistent in a team’s offensive gameplan. Saturday, Clemson’s backs only touched the ball a combined 20 times. Despite their few carries, both Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper averaged over 3 yards per carry. Ellington had a long rush of 14 yards and both he and Harper caught passes. Their performance was not necessarily good, but given the few times they touched the ball, I don’t think they performed poorly.
WIDE RECEIVER: D
There’s a reason Kyle Parker scrambled as much as he did Saturday. There’s a reason he took so long looking for receivers before firing passes, resulting in interceptions and thrown away passes. Quite simply, nobody is getting open. There is talent at the wide receiver position. What is apparently lacking is solid coaching. As it stands, this group is not playing well. They are not running good routes and forcing separation in the secondary. They are not catching balls. The only positive that can be said of this group is their perimeter blocking on run plays, but even that has been suspect at times.
OFFENSIVE LINE: D
This group underachieved miserably Saturday. Boston College was missing 3 of their best defensive players, including their best defensive lineman. Yet, Clemson was still incapable of controlling the game up front. The Tigers averaged only 3.7 yards on the ground – a direct reflection of the offensive line’s performance. The fact that the coaching staff abandoned the run game shows the extent of the lack of physicality and execution up front. Although the line did not give up a sack, it did not help Kyle Parker in the passing game. Boston College was able to get pressure in the backfield even when they dropped 8 men into coverage. There is no excuse for that.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-
The defensive line can only do so much. They seemed to play decently, especially inside, but unfortunately did not have any help behind them. Once Boston College’s offensive front found ways to take Clemson’s d-line out of the game, running back Montel Harris was able to run for days. Jarvis Jenkins had 8 tackles on the day, followed by Brandon Thompson with 6 as the leaders on the defensive line. DaQuan Bowers was held to 2 tackles and zero sacks or tackles for loss.
Gameplanning against Clemson’s defense seems easy enough – control the run game by focusing all your blockers on the defense’s front four. Then, play action pass to a back in the flats or on a wheel route. The Tigers’ linebackers are sure to bite on the fake every time. They’ve consistently played out of position and have not helped the defense in any area except points allowed.
DEFENSIVE BACK: B
Unfortunately for Clemson’s defensive backs, they’ve had to play linebacker all season. Once running back Montel Harris made it through the Tigers’ first line of defense up front, there was nobody to stop him until he reached the secondary. Clemson’s safeties should not have to make as many touchdown-saving tackles as they have this season. Because of this, they’re forced to focus too much on the run, sometimes resulting in poor pass coverage. Saturday – despite their increased responsibility in run defense – the corners and safeties played well, holding Boston College to 136 passing yards and intercepting a pass for a touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
Two missed field goals and a fumble on a kickoff return makes this group easy to grade. Clemson will have to find a capable field goal kicker if they hope to compete the rest of the season. Jamie Harper will have to learn how to catch and hold onto the ball now that Andre Ellington is out with injury.
COACHING STAFF: F
The infamous “egg” was finally laid Saturday in Chestnut Hill. Most Clemson fans expected it would happen, but as always, nobody knew when or where. “There’s no way it will happen against Boston College, a team on a 5 game losing streak, last in the division with 3 of their best defensive players out. There’s no way it will happen just days after learning that Clemson controls their own destiny in the race to the ACC championship game with Florida State’s loss. Certainly the team will be prepared and ready to play.” Boy, were we wrong.
Offensively this team lacks identity and consistency in plugging away at either the run or the pass. The last couple of weeks it seemed that the team was growing as a run first, pass second offense. However, Billy Napier must have thought that overusing all-star back Andre Ellington would be too predictable. He all but abandoned the running game, electing to try and move the ball through the air. 262 yards later, the egg was laid. Napier’s play calling has mirrored that of Rob Spence’s at times, lacking creativity and productivity.
Defensively the team has continued to improve. That is, in all areas except the linebacker position. At what point is coaching to blame here? I would say at this point. Kevin Steele is one of the highest paid coaches at Clemson for a reason. Regardless if he has the talent or not, he must find a way to stop opposing offenses with the players he has. If he can’t do it, then head coach Dabo Swinney needs to find someone who can.
Overall, this is a poorly coached team. The players were not ready Saturday. They were not ready against Miami and they were not ready against North Carolina. At some point the blame falls on the coaching staff entirely. The talent is in place. Losing games like this is inexcusable.