By Gray Gardner.
CLEMSON, SC – The Clemson football team made a statement with their win over eleventh ranked Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium Saturday night.
But how did the Tigers grade out? The Clemson Insider has the answer.
Tajh Boyd’s stats may not be overly impressive – 13 of 32 passing for 204 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. But what was impressive was Boyd’s ability to manage the game and not do anything to lose the game. Under pressure without open receivers, Boyd seemed to make the right decision every time to either run or throw the ball away. His interception came on a pass where one of the best cornerbacks in the country perfectly read the play and undercut Boyd’s receiver. Boyd was clutch when it mattered, and his play led to another win for the Tigers.
RUNNING BACK: B
For the first time this year, Clemson won with a more impressive power running game than passing game. The Tigers put up 119 yards and two scores on the ground, mostly due to Andre Ellington and Mike Bellamy’s tough running. There wasn’t much running – per usual with this Clemson team – but the backs made the most of it. Bellamy was electric on the few carries he received, taking one on a burst up the middle for a 31-yard touchdown.
WIDE RECEIVER: B+
This group was tough…again. Dwayne Allen led the charge this week with 4 receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown. Jaron Brown proved that he is just as clutch as DeAndre Hopkins or Sammy Watkins – neither of which were much of a factor in Saturday’s game. There were certainly some balls dropped that should have been caught Saturday night, but you can easily blame that on the cold, wet weather.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
Finally – Clemson’s offensive line finally showed solid improvement. The big boys up front opened up the running game for the Tigers’ backs for the first time this season, and did a great job protecting Tajh Boyd despite the Hokies’ outstanding pass rushers. Is there still work to be done? Absolutely. But Saturday’s performance is a great place to start.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
Andre Branch certainly helped this group out with his performance. The team had only recorded four sacks this season going into Saturday’s game. Branch had four in the second half alone. Brandon Thompson and Malliciah Goodman also hopped in on a sack and each contributed with tackles for loss.
Let’s start with the bad: missed tackles. How long is it going to take this season for the defense to learn to tackle? Right at the core of the issue is the linebacking corps, which has been dismal in the tackling department. Virginia Tech would have been stuffed all game long if the first defender to the ball was able to make the tackle every time. The second half was a far cry from the first, as Stephone Anthony entered the game at middle-linebacker. Anthony made up for a lot of what was lacking without his presence in the game, and joined Jonathan Willard in having a great performance. Clemson’s linebackers should be credited for their role in keeping Virginia Tech out of the endzone, but they must learn to tackle.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A
It’s true. Clemson’s defensive secondary deserves an A for their performance. One could argue that Logan Thomas and the Hokies’ passing game is sub-par, and I would agree. But still, you can’t ask anything more from the Tigers’ secondary given what they were faced with. They allowed only 125 yards through the air and recorded an interception early in the game that certainly had an effect on the Hokies’ quarterback for the rest of the game. Maybe the biggest positive for the secondary this week: no big pass plays.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
It was a solid performance for the special teams units Saturday night. They didn’t win the game and they didn’t lose the game – the perfect scenario for any football coach. Chandler Catanzaro hit on his lone field goal attempt from 31 yards out, hopefully gaining some confidence. Dawson Zimmerman pinned the Hokies back all game and helped the Tigers win the field position battle over and over again.
COACHING STAFF: A+
On the road at Virginia Tech. Hostile environment for a night game in Lane Stadium. The young Tigers’ first away game this season and third straight game against a ranked opponent. The odds were certainly in favor of the Hokies.
But Clemson’s coaching staff showed that this year just might be different. They had their team prepared, and won a game that was far different than any other game the Tigers have played this season. Clemson relied heavily on the run and its defensive performance on Saturday instead of its typical 400-yard passing, 35-point offensive heyday.
Chad Morris and Kevin Steele should be praised for their ability to make adjustments in the second half that all but shut down Virginia Tech in every aspect. Their schemes, plus Dabo Swinney’s motivational ability, might just be the right mix for a championship team in Clemson.