GRADES: Tigers claw their way back

CLEMSON - Dabo Swinney's one-game season mantra appears to be working as the Tigers are slowly climbing back into the Atlantic Division race.

The Tigers pounded out 236 yards on the ground and a respectable 167 through the air for a grand total of 403 yards of total offense. Andre Ellington was the story, however, amassing 166 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground to along with two catches for 12 yards and another score through the air. The return of DeAndre Hopkins was critical in the passing game as the true freshman brought in four passes for a team-high 50 yards- which helped keep Tech's 3-4 scheme from crowding the box. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Saturday's win was the 15-play, 64 yard drive that ate 7:36 off the clock and ended with a Catanzaro chip shot field goal late in the fourth quarter. If that isn't old-school Clemson football- what is? Simply put, it was Clemson's best offensive performance since the overtime loss at Auburn.

Raise your hand if you had Josh Nesbitt rushing for two yards in this game. Raise your hand if you had Clemson winning the time of possession. Lastly, raise your hand if you had Tech scoring just one offensive touchdown. Somewhat shockingly considering the success Tech's triple option attack has had since Paul Johnson's arrival two years ago, all three game to fruition Saturday. Credit Kevin Steele for going to a base 3-4 scheme and moving Andre Branch to weak side linebacker to help provide some much-needed firepower to that unit. Clemson's front three was the difference in the game as well (Da'Quan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins and Malliciah Goodman)- accounting for 23 total tackles and helping ease the pressure off the linebackers. Clemson "limited" the Yellow Jackets to 272 yards on the ground, but more importantly, pounded Nesbitt and every other Tech running back and receiver relentlessly for four quarters. The end result was a thing of beauty. Bravo Kevin Steele. Bravo Clemson's defense. It was a championship performance for sure.

Special teams weren't quite as special as they've been in recent weeks, especially when Chandler Catanzaro missed a 29-yard field goal in the early stages of the first quarter. Still, the Catman rebounded to make his next two for some added confidence headed into next week's game at Boston College. There were a couple of times Clemson appeared to be poised to break big returns on kickoffs, but it never happened. Ellington's lone mistake on the day, a fumble in the third quarter after Tech pulled within 11 at 17-6, plus the missed chip shot, forces the "C" grade.

Credit Kevin Steele for going to a base 3-4 scheme and moving Andre Branch to weak side linebacker to help provide some much-needed firepower to that unit. (Roy Philpott)
Let's be honest, Paul Johnson has been the biggest thorn in the side of Clemson football this side of Jim Grobe. Saturday, that came to end- at least for the 365 days. The Steele-Johnson chess match went on for four quarters before DeAndre McDaniel check-mated Josh Nesbitt with a critical interception before stepping out of bounds. He would be flagged for an excessive celebration penalty, but by that point - who cared? The end result of the play meant Clemson's four-game skid to the Jackets was over. The offense didn't turn it over and stuck with its go-to back, while also getting the ball downfield enough to keep Tech honest. A couple of more games like this and the Tigers will indeed find themselves right back in the Atlantic Division race.

Last week's win over Maryland was far from perfect, and while Saturday's victory of Tech was as well, it sure left you with a better feeling leaving the stadium. While it's still too early to say Clemson is back in it, a win next week at Boston College plus a Florida State loss at N.C. State Thursday night would virtually guarantee it. The Tigers are playing with controlled passion, executing at timely moments, and getting quality play on both sides of the ball. Can it continue? Top Stories