Making the Grade: Clemson’s first units are already playing at a high level

Making the Grade: Clemson’s first units are already playing at a high level

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Making the Grade: Clemson’s first units are already playing at a high level

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For a second straight week, Clemson’s first-team offense was efficient, and its first-team defense was dominant. It explains why the Tigers raced out of the gate for 49-first half points against The Citadel on Saturday at Death Valley.

And though the second-team defense showed marked improvement in Game 2 for No. 1 Clemson, its second-team offense is still trying to find its way as the Tigers’ failed do anything offensively in the second half of their 49-0 victory over the Bulldogs.

Below is how each position group graded in the Clemson victory.

Quarterback: B

Once again Trevor Lawrence deserves an “A.” The junior continues to look like a true Heisman Trophy contender. He completed 8-of-9 passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns, while also running for another score in less than one half of play. The only incompletion was a drop from wide receiver Amari Rodgers on his first pass of the game. He had a quarterback efficiency rating of 355.7, which would have been a Clemson record had he qualified with enough pass attempts. The minimum to qualify is 15 attempts. D.J. Uiagalelei ran for two touchdowns and completed 8-of-11 passes for 75 yards. His two touchdown runs came mostly with the first-team offense as the coaching staff pre-planned to get him in the game earlier. However, he had an opportunity to get points for the second-team offense in the second half, but the drive bogged down. Taisun Phommachanh struggled. He completed just 1-of-5 passes for minus-one yard. Walk-on Hunter Helms got on the field and completed two passes for just one yard.

Running backs: B

Like Lawrence, Etienne deserves an “A” on his own. The senior averaged 8.5 yards per carry, while running for 68 yards on just eight attempts. He did not score a touchdown, but he did have a 28-yard run which set up a Lawrence 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Etienne also caught a screen pass that went for 11 yards. Like Lawrence he did not even play a full half. Darien Rencher ran hard, averaging 7.0 yards on four carries, while Chez Mullusi ran well in his first game back after suffering a shoulder injury in camp. The sophomore averaged 6.2 yards on four carries. Lyn-J Dixon also returned from injury, but he averaged just 3.3 yards, as did Demarkcus Bowman. Michel Dukes averaged four yards per carry, while freshman Kobe Pace got one carry for 2 yards.

Pass catchers: B

All in all, I thought Clemson’s receivers did well. The tight ends disappeared in this game, but that might have been by design and based on what looks The Citadel was giving them. However, Frank Ladson emerged as a playmaker at wide receiver. The sophomore caught three passes for 87 yards, two of which went for touchdowns. He made a nice grab on a laser thrown by Lawrence for a 17-yard touchdown, and then he used a double move to get wide open on a 54-yard toss from Lawrence. Amari Rodgers, who dropped the first pass attempt of the game, bounced back by hauling in a 44-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence. Cornell Powell also had two catches for 25 yards, including a 13-yard grab on third down. Freshman E.J. Williams had a nice catch-and-run for 38 yards in the second quarter and finished the game with three receptions for 58 yards in his Death Valley debut. The negatives were Rodgers’ drop and another by freshman Ajou Ajou.

Offensive line: B

I thought the first-team offensive line again played very well. Lawrence was surrounded by a nice pocket all afternoon and was never pressured. Etienne and Rencher had nice gapping holes to run through. All in all, it was nice performance for the first-team unit. The second unit struggled to run the ball consistently and they did give up a sack. There were also a couple of bad snaps at center that put the offense in negative situations.

Defensive line: A

No surprise here, but the defensive front was again very dominant. The Citadel’s triple-option was ineffective due to the Tigers’ ability to take away the fullback dive from the outset. The defensive front was responsible for 2.5 of the Tigers four sacks and 6.5 of their 12 tackles-for-loss. Myles Murphy again had another dominant afternoon, recording two tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble. Defensive end Greg Williams had four tackles, including a sack. Regan Upshaw had another good week with four tackles and a half sack, while defensive tackle DeMonte Capehart made his Clemson debut with three tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a sack. The Citadel averaged just 1.8 yards per carry and had 47 yards in losses. They finished with just 86 rushing yards on 48 carries.

Linebackers: A

Jake Venables and James Skalski did a great job getting guys lined up and in position to make plays. Skalski even made one himself when he returned a fumbled 17 yards for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 28-0 lead at the time. Venables led Clemson with five tackles and had one tackle-for-loss. Trenton Simpson recorded his first sack of his career, while Kevin Swint got in and also had three tackles and a half sack. Keith Maguire came in for an injured Baylon Spector and played well.

Secondary: B

As a whole the secondary played much better this week. They held the Bulldogs to 3-of-10 passing for 76 yards. But they did give up two pass plays of 38 yards to a triple-option style offense. Also, Derion Kendrick was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Special teams: A

Amari Rodgers had punt returns of 21 and 16 yards. Then Etienne, on his first punt return in college, brought it back 44 yards to set up Uiagalelei’s first rushing touchdown. B.T. Potter was a perfect 3-for-3 with touchbacks on his kickoffs, plus he made all six of his extra points. Will Spiers continues to punt the ball well. He averaged 46.0 yards on three punts, including two down inside the 20-yard line. He had a long of 53 yards.

Coaching: A

Once again, the Clemson coaching staff had their team prepared to play. The offense looked sharp right out of the gate and Brent Venables had the defense well prepared to defend the triple-option. Another good game plan by the coaches, which the first units executed well, and the second-team defense showed marked improvement from the week before. Dabo Swinney did a good job getting a lot of players in the game early so they could get some meaningful reps.

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