By Gray Gardner.
CLEMSON – The Clemson football team played what was undoubtedly its worst game this season in its 37-13 loss to NC State on Saturday. The Clemson Insider graded the team’s performance in today’s edition of Game Grades.
There’s no question that Tajh Boyd has played poorly in each of the Tigers’ last three games. But it’s hard to put all the blame on him for the awful offensive showing in Raleigh. Boyd was under pressure from State’s defensive front all game long and was sacked 5 times and hurried another 3. Boyd forced throws into double and even triple coverage at times, two times resulting in interceptions. But Boyd did hit the open receiver when he had time and, well, when there was an open receiver. He finished the game having completed 21 of his 34 pass attempts for 238 yards and no touchdowns – easily his worst game of the season, statistically speaking.
RUNNING BACK: C
One of the biggest disappointments this season has been Clemson’s anemic running game. Andre Ellington just hasn’t been the same since his season ending injury a year ago, and freshman Mike Bellamy can’t find a way to hold onto the ball. DJ Howard has probably been Clemson’s most effective back this season, but has lacked consistency and only received one carry Saturday. The Tigers averaged only 1.2 yards per carry against NC State’s underachieving defensive front for a total of 34 yards. You can certainly blame the offensive line for much of these struggles, but ball security and hitting the open hole are the sole responsibility of the running backs.
WIDE RECEIVER: C+
There should be no question how valuable Sammy Watkins is to this team after Saturday night. Clemson’s passing game looked eerily similar to last year’s with the absence of Watkins and Martavis Bryant, suffering from an overall lack of team speed and the ability to get open in the secondary. DeAndre Hopkins was Boyd’s favorite and – at times – only target, much like in 2010. Hopkins came through, catching 5 passes for 124 yards. Brandon Ford stepped up for the second week in a row, hauling in 5 catches for 77 yards. Adam Humphries filled in for Sammy Watkins by catching 4 passes for 48 yards – a significant decrease in productivity for the position.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F
Possibly more valuable than Sammy Watkins to the Clemson offense is offensive tackle Philip Price. Clemson’s offensive front gave up 6 sacks Saturday in Raleigh without Price starting at left tackle. Tajh Boyd had little confidence to step into the pocket and the Tigers’ running game was literally nonexistent. Brandon Thomas and David Smith are not the answer to the problems up front. If Clemson wants to stand a chance in its next two games, they better either get Price healthy or pray that his replacements play the best games of their lives.
DEFENSIVE LINE: D-
NC State’s offensive front had its way with Clemson’s front four. The Wolfpack rushed for 145 yards Saturday after averaging under 100 yards per game and under 3 yards per carry this season. The Tigers recorded 2 sacks Saturday, but were relatively ineffective in getting pressure on quarterback Mike Glennon the rest of the game. With the talent Clemson has at defensive end and in defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, you’d expect to see more fight up front.
Clemson’s linebackers have not improved this season. That’s the bottom line. Corico Hawkins is not a suitable playmaker at Mike for Kevin Steele’s defensive, and Jonathan Willard is just not athletic enough to provide adequate help in pass coverage. The jury is out on Quandon Christian, though he has probably been the most consistent backer on the Tiger defense. Freshman Stephone Anthony has recorded more and more snaps, but the results have remained the same. This group is simply not able to contribute at the level required to be a dominant – or even average – defense.
DEFENSIVE BACK: D-
NC State didn’t have to pass much on Saturday with their effective running game. But when they did, they were successful – Mike Glennon completed 66% of his passes for 253 yards and 3 touchdowns. Clemson’s secondary did little to slow State’s offense down, and failed to make plays even when in position to defend passes.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Chandler Catanzaro accounted for 7 of Clemson’s 13 points Saturday night without a miss. Dawson Zimmerman had a busy night and averaged almost 46 yards per punt on 7 tries. Clemson’s special teams certainly haven’t made many big plays this year, and have suffered when opponents have. The same was true Saturday, as the Tigers did little to help themselves on returns, but gave up a 34-yard punt return that setup an early NC State score.
COACHING STAFF: F
Most of the coaches explained in their post-game interviews that the team did not execute the base offense and defense. That, plus the overall lack of emotion and attitude the team played with, must be attributed to the coaching staff’s poor job of preparing the team during practice last week.
Chad Morris’ offense has been relatively unimpressive in each of the last four games. Turnovers and injuries haven’t helped, but it seems like the play calling has attributed to some of the decline. The big question now is, have opposing defenses figured out how to stop Morris’ once high-powered offense? Or is this just typical Clemson-beating-Clemson? Only time will tell.
Kevin Steele’s defense has been lackluster for ten of Clemson’s eleven games this season. Questions and rumors concerning Steele’s future are certainly starting to swirl at this point, as his defense ranks 56th in total defense and 86th in rushing defense. The worst part is that there has been little to no improvement as the season has progressed. Will Dabo Swinney make a move if things don’t change against South Carolina and in the ACC Championship?
At the end of the day, Clemson’s poor performance only accounted for the Tigers’ second loss of the season. Who in their right mind thought this team would have won 9 games this season, especially in only 10 games? It’s disappointing to see Clemson play like this after watching them play as well as they did earlier in the season. But remember – this team is made up of players who went 6-7 a year ago, with a first year starter at quarterback and true freshman as the only real offensive playmaker. To do what they have done thus far is impressive and should be a good indication of where the Clemson football program is headed. Though there are certainly negatives that must be addressed and fixed, the success this team has found far outweighs them all.