GRADES: Ugly wins still count

CLEMSON - After a season filled with close losses, Clemson finally finds a way to topple a ranked team.

With Andre Ellington watching from the sidelines Saturday, there was a sense Clemson would have been fortunate to score more than a touchdown against N.C. State's pesky defense. Fortunately, it did, scoring two in the second half to sneak out the win. Still, this unit struggled in every way imaginable as it managed just 46 yards on the ground, fumbled the ball four times (losing two) and also threw an interception. Marquan Jones and DeAndre Hopkins were two of the lone bright spots- catching a combined 11 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. Kyle Parker appeared out of rhythm most of the day, but sill managed to complete 21-of-29 passes for 214 yards. Jamie Harper had his moments as well, rushing the ball 24 times for 64 yards - including a four-yard touchdown with 6:18 left to Clemson its first lead of the game. A win is a win, but clearly Clemson is a team led by its defense, especially without Ellington in the mix.

All you need to know is N.C. State was inside Clemson's 20 yard line five separate times, and it only scored 13 points in the game. Corico Hawkins led all tacklers with nine, including half for a loss and a fumble recovery. Da'Quan Bowers was ... well Da'Quan Bowers, recording two tackles for loss and two sacks as he routinely harrassed Russell Wilson all game long. Rennie Moore was awarded the game ball in the locker room afterwards and with good reason- he was instrumental in disrupting State's running game as well as getting pressure on Wilson. Time after time Clemson's offense and special teams put the defense in a bind, and time after time Kevin Steele's unit came through. Steele himself even got involved in this one, seemingly passing out after DeAndre McDaniel's interception in the end zone, but he quickly recovered and coached the rest of the game. In the last four games, Clemson has given up four touchdowns, including N.C. State's lone march across the goal line Saturday - which came courtesy a questionable defensive pass interference penalty called on third and long deep in Clemson territory. Simply put, this year's version of the Clemson Tigers will go as far as the defense will take it.

Clemson's block of Josh Czajkowski's 30-yard field goal in the second quarter proved to be one of the biggest plays of the game. (Roy Philpott)
Two missed field goals, both by Richard Jackson, were costly, but the Tigers did block a 30 yard attempt by N.C. State's Josh Czajkowski in the second quarter. Given the final outcome, that was an opportune time to notch the Tigers' first blocked kick of the season. Dawson Zimmerman made a terrific catch on a high snap in the tension-filled fourth quarter as well. Chandler Catanzaro connected on the final extra point of the game to give the Tigers the win, but the answers at kicker are far from settled after Jackson's two misses. The blocked field goal, a 70-plus yard kick return by Marcus Gilchrist and Zimmerman's catch of the bad snap prevent the failing grade here.

Undoubtedly, Clemson's identity in 2010 starts with its defense. To that end, the Tigers stayed patient with their running game before taking to the air just enough to get the win. Defensively, it was borderline "lights out" as Kevin Steele's unit proved its one of the best in the ACC once again. Special teams suffered their second straight down week, but Andre Powell can't kick field goals can he? Could Tajh Boyd have been used better? Perhaps. Could there have been better calls on offense in specific situations? Sure. But this was an ugly game from start to finish and Clemson won. When is the last time you could say that?

The Tigers have lost a series of games this year where it felt like they were the better team: at Auburn, at North Carolina and at Boston College would all fall into that category given the closeness of those contests. Saturday- it was the exact opposite, as Clemson found a way to win a game it easily could have lost. Taking advantage of a series of miscues by N.C. State, the Tigers finally found a way to win a close game against a ranked team by scoring two touchdowns in the final 18 minutes of the game. Was it perfect? Not even close. But a win is a win and the Tigers will carry this victory into Tallahassee next weekend, hoping to truly start a resurgent November. The bottom line is ugly wins still count, and Saturday's win puts the Tigers in contention to at least get to a bowl game and salvage what has been a disappointing season thus far. Top Stories