GRADES: Tigers find a way

CLEMSON - Admit it, it felt like the "same old Clemson" for about three quarters, didn't it?

Clemson pounded out over 500 yards of total offense, and is now undefeated in 58 games when reaching that mark, but Tajh Boyd's two interceptions (he should have thrown five) and the lack of a true running game through the first three quarters are too hard to ignore. Andre Ellington scored two touchdowns in the first half, but never truly got going until the fourth quarter. Clemson's run blocking was also average at best, even though Ellington didn't do his offensive line any favors by constantly trying to cut back inside, instead of bouncing it outside where he had more running room. Also, from the "things that make you go 'hmmm' department: Clemson actually scored 33 points against the Deacs last year in Winston-Salem. 500-plus yards of total offense is good, but this unit doesn't feel the same group it did three weeks ago. Where were the big plays?

When Wake Forest was busy reeling off 21 unanswered points in the third quarter, the Tigers were busy missing tackles and getting lulled to sleep. Tanner Price seemingly dissected Clemson's secondary with relative ease and Brandon Pendergrass looked like a stronger version of former Deacons great Chris Barclay. Rashard Hall and Xavier Brewer led the way with eight and seven tackles respectively, but is that really a good sign when defensive backs continue to lead the team in tackles? The fourth quarter saw Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore make a series of critical stops, which helps this unit avoid the failing grade.

For the second time in three games, Clemson's special teams have given up a return for a touchdown. Three weeks ago it was a kickoff return against North Carolina while today it came on a punt. Spencer Benton also struggled to regain his consistency with his kickoffs and even Dawson Zimmerman was connecting on end-over-end punts at times. Fortunately Chandler Catanzaro made the 43-yarder to win it, after missing a 29 yard chip shot, otherwise special teams would have received the dreaded "F" grade.

It wasn't the most inspiring performance, especially early on, however it didn't appear the team was flat. Wake Forest simply did a solid job of preventing the big play, which made Clemson dink and dunk its way down the field for the majority of its scores. The offense was able to grind out 522 total yards while the defense gave up 317 - but it didn't feel like that watching this one. Wake Forest looked like a better coached team and played like one, too. There was poor clock management before Catanzaro's 29-yard field goal miss and was it really a good decision to go for it on fourth and short deep in your own territory with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter? Hindsight obviously tells you 'no.' But with all that in mind, Clemson still was able to win a game in which it turned the ball over three times more than its opponent, while also giving up a special teams score. Five years ago that would not have happened.

It wasn't a great performance, but the end result produced a great outcome. The argument could be made Wake Forest is simply better than most would like to admit, but didn't we say the same thing after a 56-45 come-from-behind at Maryland- the same team that has two wins this season? Regardless, the only thing that mattered Saturday was Clemson winning the game, and it did in dramatic fashion. The Tigers now travel to N.C. State having wrapped up the Atlantic Division before finishing the regular season at archrival South Carolina. At stake next weekend is hitting the 10-win mark for the first time in 20 years and continuing the recent domination over the Wolfpack. The following week is all about ending a rare two-game losing streak to South Carolina and reclaiming in-state dominance. Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? That's yet to be determined. But it seems safe to assume the Tigers will have to play better than they have the last two games to finish the season strong. Top Stories