By Will Vandervort
Each week we take a look back at what the Clemson Tigers did right and what they did wrong on the gridiron as we grade the third-ranked Tigers’ performance at every position in Thursday’s 26-14 victory over N.C. State
Tajh Boyd struggled in the first half against NC State’s zone-blitzes. The Wolfpack moved players all over the field and brought pressure from just about everywhere. The pressure, plus two early sacks got in Boyd’s head and led to him rushing and missing open receivers. He overthrew receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant on two passes and did not even see a wide open Adam Humphries on another play. All three would have gone for touchdowns. He also had trouble on the zone read and several times made bad reads that left his running backs out to dry. Boyd got better in the second half and, in no surprise, so did the offense. Boyd completed 9 of 11 passes for 100 yards in the second half and threw two more touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown pass to Sam Cooper just before halftime.
Overall the running backs ran well, but no back rushed for 70 yards. However, Roderick McDowell did run for 68 yards on 14 carries, while D.J. Howard gained 45 yards on seven carries, including a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter. Also, McDowell looked good in pass protection and did a good job picking up blitzes that were coming from the outside and up the middle.
Wide receivers/ Tight ends
Martavis Bryant finally showed the country what kind of player he can be with his fourth quarter grab in the end zone to put the Tigers up 26-7. He also had a 30-yard touchdown. He finished the game with six catches for 73 yards to go with two scores. Sammy Watkins was also brilliant, catching 10 passes for 96 yards. It also helped that the Tigers got tight end Sam Cooper back. He caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter that gave Clemson a 13-7 lead. He also helped with the blocking in the running game. Germone Hopper also had a big 24-yard reception as did Mike Williams, who had a 25-yard reception.
I know some of you didn’t think the offensive line did very well the other night, but the fact is they as a group played well. Right tackle Gifford Timothy allowed both sacks and was quickly taken out of the game after doing so. He did not come back until the third quarter and did much better before leaving the game with a concussion. Clemson also rushed for 171 yards on 40 carries against a defense that was allowing a league best 78 yards a game. That figured ranked eighth in the nation at the time.
Vic Beasley was un-blockable. Left tackle Joe Thuney, who started for the first time at that position because senior Rob Crisp was injured, could not block the Tigers’ defensive end. Beasley had three sacks, forced a fumble and batted down two passes. Clemson also got three tackles for loss from fellow defensive end Shaq Lawson and one tackle for loss from tackle Grady Jarrett..
Weakside linebacker Spencer Shuey recovered a fumble and made several open field tackles that kept NC State from making big plays. Shuey had 11 tackles, while fellow linebacker Stephone Anthony totaled 14 to lead the team. He also had two tackles for loss. Quandon Christian struggled at strongside backer and record only two tackles and have several missed assignments.
Granted there were a couple of blown assignments in the secondary that led to a couple of big plays, but no one got behind this group, and for the second time in three games they did not yield a touchdown pass. NC State’s Pete Thomas completed only 20 of the 36 passes as he threw for 213 yards. His longest completion was only 33 yards. The Tigers played mostly press coverage all night and I thought held their own against what I thought were some very good wide receivers and playmakers.
Bradley Pinion continues to be a weapon as State had no punt returns and returned five kickoffs for an average of 16.2 yards per return. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro became Clemson’s all-time leading scorer with two field goals and two extra points. His field goals were from 49 and 45 yards. Catanzaro has now made 30 of his last 31 field goals.
I’m only giving the coaches a “B” because I thought the team came out a little flat in the first half, especially the offense. The defense, I thought, was consistent the whole night as they forced three three-and-outs and two turnovers. They also had five sacks and 10 tackles for loss overall. NC State also had two other drives end on four plays.