GRADES: Pick your poison

CLEMSON - Sure it was a close game at halftime, but you just had the feeling Clemson would shift into another gear in the third quarter ... and indeed it did.

It was understood earlier in the week it would likely be tough for Clemson to establish the ground game against an ultra-talented North Carolina front-four. And that certainly proved to be the case as the Tigers managed just 76 yards rushing. Fortunately, everything else the Tigers did on offense... worked to perfection. Tajh Boyd tied a school record with five touchdown passes, throwing for over 350 yards in the process. Nuke Hopkins also had his best day ever wearing the orange and white, bringing in nine catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. In all, five different players caught touchdown passes on the afternoon, including Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Dwayne Allen, Brandon Ford and Martavis Bryant. For opposing defenses, it's now a matter of picking your poison. Double-cover Watkins, and Allen will make you play. Stack the box and the Tigers will simply burn you on play-action. Chad Morris must be having the time of his life right now.

It wasn't pretty in the first half as the Clemson secondary was burned badly on two long touchdowns, but Kevin Steele's unit played much better collectively than it did the previous week at Maryland. Kourtnei Brown also had one of the most mind-blowing games ever for a Clemson defender, becoming the first defensive lineman in over 56 years to score two touchdowns in a single game. Keep in mind UNC scored two late touchdowns against second and third-teamers, and the Tar Heels also added a touchdown on a kickoff return. Subtract those 21 points and all of a sudden Clemson's defensive performance looks much more respectable. Still, Georgia Tech will look to exploit Clemson's inability to prevent the big play next week and that is a justified concern as the Tigers head to Atlanta. Clemson's linebackers and safeties have to play as well as they have all season against the triple-option scheme of Paul Johnson next Saturday night.

Chandler Catanzaro was 1 for 2 on field goals but the real issues came on kickoffs. A couple of short kicks led to outstanding field position for the Tar Heels, and then the 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown took the wind out of the Tigers' sails after they established a 21-point second-half lead. Clemson's kickoff team has looked vulnerable throughout the season and it was exposed against the Heels. Simply put, this team misses Spencer Benton and the kickoff problems need to be fixed in a hurry.

Chad Morris has to be the hottest name in coaching circles with what he's been able to accomplish with Clemson's offense this year. Oh sure, he has plenty of weapons at his disposal, but he consistently calls the right plays at the right time game after game. Meanwhile Kevin Steele can always be counted on to make the kinds of in-game adjustments that keep the opposition in check. Last but not least, isn't it fair to write Dabo Swinney has changed the culture at Clemson? You bet it is.

North Carolina came in to Saturday's game boasting one of the ACC's toughest defenses. It left on the wrong end of a 59-38 scoring barrage. Clemson doesn't always do it in conventional ways, but with this offense, it doesn't have to. Tajh Boyd and company come at you in waves. And once Clemson's first-year starter gets in rhythm, there's simply no stopping him. Sure, the defense is a work in progress, but it's had it's moments this year and will again. All you need to know is Clemson is 8-0 for the first time in 11 years and firmly in control of its own destiny in the ACC title race. Bigger picture, this team is also now fighting for a spot in the BCS Championship game. While the Tigers need some help to get there, remember it's not even November yet. There will be more upsets, and more crazy twists and turns down the stretch. Just keep taking care of your own business, starting next week at suddenly hapless Georgia Tech, and everything else will take care of itself. Top Stories