Work in progress easier after win

Maybe this is just the way the Clemson football team is going to have to win games this year.

A dynamic, high-flying offense, with a little – or a lot – of Andre Ellington sprinkled in to keep the attack balanced and give the opposing teams plenty to worry about.

Pretty good special teams, especially a once-shaky kicker who has become all but automatic in Chandler Catanzaro.

And a defense that will struggle at times because of youth and inexperience and a lack of depth.

That just seems to be this Clemson team's identity. And as long as it's winning, there's nothing wrong with that.

Sure, Clemson fans would like to see their team be dominant in all three aspects of the game – offense, defense and special teams – and the players and coaches would like to see that, too, and they're working to make it happen. But it's rare that a team has all of that, and Clemson just doesn't right now.

Maybe it will some day, and Dabo Swinney certainly is building the program toward that day, but it's just not to that point just yet. So for the time being there will be more games like the one Saturday.

Clemson did plenty of good things in its 45-31 win over Boston College. The Tigers rolled up 576 yards of offense, 367 passing and 209 rushing, showcasing the talents of quarterback Tajh Boyd, receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Ellington.

The Tigers' were 10-of-16 on third-down tries, and that kept the offense rolling.

While the defense struggled, giving up 420 total yards, it was at its best on third downs, holding the Eagles to 5-of-17 in those situations. Because of that stat, and a couple of key interceptions, the Tigers were able to slow down the Eagles just enough to get out of Boston with a win.

Playing better: While the defense struggled in the first half Saturday, especially in the secondary, Brent Venables' unit was better after halftime.

And that was impressive to see.

Chase Rettig and the Eagles had their way with the Tigers' defense in the first half, picking apart the Clemson secondary and taking a 21-17 lead with 4:12 remaining left in the second quarter. There were wide-open passing lanes and receivers from which to chose for Rettig, and he showed why he was leading the ACC in passing entering the contest.

The Tigers' defensive backs looked lost at times, and they looked just plain bad at others, That's not a good combination while playing against a quarterback who is performing as well as Rettig.

But after the Eagles took their four-point lead, the Clemson defense played much better, putting pressure on Rettig and forcing him into the two interceptions, and the Tigers allowed only 10 points the rest of the way, offering the offense a chance to pull away.

That's a positive step for this defense moving forward. It wasn't always pretty, and there were still some of the same ills that have plagued this unit – bad tackling and missed assignments – but the improvements in the second half were easy to see.

That's something the Tigers can build upon moving forward

MR. DYNAMITE: Sammy Watkins gets a lot of attention, and that is with good reason. But Hopkins showed once again Saturday that the Clemson receiver corps is not a one-man show. Just like the Auburn game when Hopkins had a program-record 13 catches, he stepped up in Watkins' absence against Boston College and had a huge game. Against the Eagles, Hopkins had 11 catches for a program-record 197 yards and a touchdown.

But it's not just about the numbers with Hopkins. His presence on the offense is clear to see when a big play is needed, and he typically comes up with those catches. He did that again, including a key fourth-quarter touchdown reception to help put the game away.

That will be important as the team continues a key stretch of games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Watkins hasn't really be in synch yet after his two-game suspension to start the season and then an illness that kept him out of Saturday's game. Because of that, Boyd and the Tigers have needed Hopkins to step up.

He has done that, and there's no reason to think he won't continue to do so.

ANOTHER CHALLENGE: The game against Rettig offered a specific test for the Clemson defense, but Venables' group will have a totally different challenge this week against Georgia Tech.

Yes, the Yellow Jackets are struggling after losing two straight games, including a stunning 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee State at home Saturday, but Georgia Tech's option offense gives most teams fits. Coming off a game facing a passing-based attack in Boston College, the Clemson defense will have to turn its focus to the ground this week.

And it's not just any rushing attack. Paul Johnson's system is unique and difficult to decipher for defenses that are playing well. For a defense that has been spotty like Clemson's, it can be even more difficult to figure out. That said, the Tigers allowed only 51 yards rushing – 1.8 yard per attempt – against Boston College, and that should give them plenty of confidence for this game.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley Top Stories