By Gray Gardner.
CLEMSON, SC – Dabo Swinney’s Tigers accomplished what was the second greatest comeback in school history against Maryland Saturday night. The Clemson Insider assessed Clemson’s performance in this week’s Game Grades.
You have to give it to Tajh Boyd. Much like the rest of the team, Boyd completely turned his game around in the second half. In the first half of play, Boyd threw several passes that were nowhere near Clemson receivers, including one interception that Maryland took all the way for a touchdown. The Tigers were lucky on two other throws in the first half that were dropped by Maryland defenders. Boyd was able to connect with DeAndre Hopkins for a score in the first half, but that was about it. After the break, the sophomore quarterback caught fire, completing 11 of his last 12 passes. He also threw two touchdown passes to Sammy Watkins and another to Jaron Brown. If not for a sluggish start, Boyd’s stats would have been through the roof Saturday.
RUNNING BACK: A+
Andre Ellington proved that he is back. Ellington rushed for over 100 yards for the second week in a row, this time eclipsing the 200-yard mark. Ellington sliced and diced Maryland’s defense all night and kept the offense moving in the first half when Tajh Boyd couldn’t. DJ Howard and Mike Bellamy offered solid runs as spell backs, but Ellington was the workhorse behind the Tigers’ successful running game.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A+
Another incredible night for the Clemson receiving corps. Sammy Watkins stole the show again with 8 receptions for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns. Dwayne Allen followed suit with 5 receptions for 41 yards, including a clutch catch on a two-point conversion try. Jaron Brown and DeAndre Hopkins each had 4 catches for 35 and 22 yards and a touchdown apiece, respectively. Needless to say – this is a consistent, big-play group.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
Clemson’s offensive line showed improvement again in this week’s comeback win. The big boys opened holes all night long for the Tigers’ running game and held a solid pocket for quarterback Tajh Boyd to step into. Any time your team finishes with 306 yards on the ground, you know your offensive line had a good day. They did allow one sack, which ultimately kept them from earning an A for their performance.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C+
The defense’s struggles started up front for the Tigers. Andre Branch and Malliciah Goodman (and the other defensive ends) constantly lost outside containment, allowing Maryland quarterback CJ Brown to run wild all night long. Behind Brown and running back Davin Megget, the Terps rushed for 291 yards – a statistic that is totally unacceptable for any defensive front. Two sacks on key possessions helped this group’s grade, which could otherwise be worse.
Any time a quarterback is able to run free past the front four defenders, you know the linebackers are playing out of position. In fact, the Terps’ runners were free to run into the secondary once they passed through Clemson’s defensive front. Missed tackles plagued this group again, and pass coverage was suspect at best. It makes you wonder – when will the big time freshmen backers make an impact?
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B-
The best word to describe this group is streaky. They’ll make a great play on one down, then follow it with a horrible play on another. Take Martin Jenkins for instance. Jenkins missed a tackle in the backfield that resulted in a big running play for Maryland. Later, Jenkins came up with a couple of clutch tackles to stop the Terps at the line of scrimmage. Coty Sensabaugh dropped what should have been an easy interception. Then Bashaud Breeland swoops in on another play and makes an incredible one-handed interception. Clemson’s safeties were no where to be found when Maryland threw deep in the middle of the field, and missed several tackles. Where this group has young talent, they lack consistency.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A+
In last week’s Mid-Season Grades article, The Clemson Insider predicted that the Tigers would break a kick return for a touchdown sometime soon. Enter Sammy Watkins. Watkins returned a kickoff for 89 yards and a touchdown Saturday night to turn the momentum in the Tigers’ favor. Chandler Catanzaro was on point again in the kicking game, hitting on all his extra points and 2 field goals.
COACHING STAFF: B
Where Chad Morris deserves an A+, Kevin Steele deserves an F.
Steele admitted after the game that his defense’s poor performance was his fault. Given the circumstances, it’s understandable how the Tigers struggled so much with Maryland’s offense. Maryland did not name a starting quarterback until right before the game. Steele and his staff worked with very little game film of the Terps’ offense under quarterback CJ Brown – an offensive approach that was much different than it would have been under quarterback Danny O’Brien. Still, adjustments should have been made to slow Maryland down. Unfortunately, Brown and the Terrapins ran untouched the entirety of the game.
Chad Morris couldn’t get quarterback Tajh Boyd going in the first half, but came out firing on all cylinders in the second half. He clearly made the necessary adjustments from a tangible, X’s and O’s standpoint and from an intangible, motivational standpoint. Morris is yet to disappoint in 2011.
Credit is also due to head coach Dabo Swinney. Swinney continues to be the spark that gets the fire going on the Clemson sideline. The Clemson faithful hope the fire continues to burn into the Tigers’ last 5 games.