By Gray Gardner.
CLEMSON, SC – It’s Monday morning in the fall, which can mean only one thing – it’s time for TCI’s Game Grades.
Tajh Boyd’s statistics continue to be ridiculous. On Saturday, Boyd threw for 5 touchdowns and ran for another in route to his team’s 59-38 victory over North Carolina. What’s most impressive from Saturday is that Boyd’s stats primarily came from only one quarter. Boyd was off target for most of the first quarter, unable to get much going offensively. He finished the first half having thrown two touchdowns, but still wasn’t playing as well as he has all season. Then halftime ended. The Tigers came out of their slumber and scored a staggering 35 points, all in the third quarter. Boyd ran for a touchdown and threw 3 others before heading to the bench for the fourth quarter. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me.
RUNNING BACK: C+
There wasn’t much going in the running game for the Tigers on Saturday. Clemson’s backs rushed for only 77 yards. Add a fumble by Mike Bellamy to the mix, and you have the grade you see above. Andre Ellington was unable to get anything going on the ground, rushing for only 11 yards on 7 carries. D.J. Howard may be the most effective running back Chad Morris has against tough defensive fronts. He led the team with 25 yards rushing on 7 carries. Mike Bellamy showed his athleticism in a few of his runs on Saturday, but also showed his immaturity in his route running and ball security.
WIDE RECEIVER: A
Another steady performance. Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins were open on nearly every play, with Hopkins making the most of it. He finished the game with 9 receptions for 157 yards and a score. Watkins was right behind him with 8 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. Dwayne Allen caught 6 passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. Martavis Bryant had the most impressive game of his young career with 2 catches for 54 yards and a score. Brandon Ford added another touchdown catch for this group. His improvement will help considerably in spelling starter Dwayne Allen.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C+
We knew going into the Saturday that North Carolina’s defensive front would be the best Clemson has faced. It showed. The meager 77 yards rushing Clemson squeezed out is indicative to the offensive line’s performance from Saturday. So is the number of sacks the Tarheels recorded on quarterback Tajh Boyd. It is true that North Carolina brought tremendous pressure on almost every play, leaving several players unblocked. Even so, this group left the team unable to run and with a one-dimensional offense. Lucky for Clemson its receivers were far more talented than North Carolina’s secondary, otherwise the score might not have been so out of hand.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Clemson’s defensive line showed big-play potential in the form of Kourtnei Brown’s two scores. Brown intercepted a pass for a touchdown and scooped and scored for another, and was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week. Besides Brown’s play, the Tigers D-line really just took up space. North Carolina’s offensive line kept the Tigers out of the backfield in the passing game and opened up hole after hole in the running game. Needless to say, this group will need to have more than one guy playing well this week against Georgia Tech.
It’s hard to muster a grade better than that for this group. They did help in stopping the run on Saturday, something they’ve struggled to do this season. Tackling was better, but still pretty bad. But the worst part about the linebackers’ play against North Carolina was their pass coverage. The Tiger linebackers were out of position or beat to the sideline almost any time they were in a one-on-one coverage with a tight end or receiver. Part of that is just athleticism – a receiver is typically going to beat a linebacker. But a lot of it is failure to play well within the scheme. These guys will have a big challenge ahead with Georgia Tech’s option-frenzy offense.
DEFENSIVE BACK: C-
With the exception of Jonathan Meek’s interception on the Tarheels’ first drive, this group didn’t do much of anything. Jheranie Boyd of North Carolina was open any time he wanted the ball, and easily beat Coty Sensabaugh deep on a couple of plays. The Tiger secondary made Dwight Jones a non-factor, but at the expense of Boyd, Erik Highsmith, Eric Ebron, and Reggie Wilkins each having more than 30 yards receiving. North Carolina finished the day with 316 yards through the air – a number that is still just too high.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
You make a big play forcing and recovering a fumble on a kickoff, score quick, then let the opposing team run the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown. How do you grade that? Clemson’s kick-off team has been pretty bad all year. You have to think some changes in personnel or scheme will be made this week. Chandler Catanzaro was kind of good on Saturday, but missed on a 46-yard attempt. He would hit on another from 39 yards out. Dawson Zimmerman punted well. At least there’s that?
COACHING STAFF: B
I’ll say it again and again – the bottom line is winning. The Clemson coaching staff has not allowed the typical “Clemson” loss to a team it should have beaten. Against North Carolina, Dabo Swinney and Co. kept the title dreams alive and improved to 8-0 and a school best #5 ranking in the BCS.
The offense was impressive again on Saturday. What’s most impressive is that Chad Morris is finding ways to put up big numbers with a one-dimensional offense. The Tigers have only had success running the ball in what, two games? Clemson makes its money through the passing game, and everyone knows it. The good news is that nobody can stop it. But what happens when somebody does? That will truly show what Chad Morris is worth as offensive coordinator.
Kevin Steele’s defense is porous. It’s unreal how effective less-talented offenses are against the Clemson-D. At some point something has to change. Steele has been extremely conservative all season, and refuses to blitz extra men – even when his front four are getting zero pressure. It will be interesting to see how his unit is prepared for Georgia Tech’s tricky offense this Saturday.