GRADES: Tigers pound Duke

DURHAM, N.C. - CUTigers publisher Roy Philpott grades Clemson's win at Duke.

Clemson scored on its first four possessions... all in the first quarter... all through the air, and never looked back. Nuk Hopkins led the way with three touchdown receptions as Clemson routinely ran past Blue Devil defenders with relative ease. One thing has become crystal clear when it comes to Clemson's offense in 2012 - it may be able to slowed down on occasion, but it truly can't be stopped. Had the Tigers stuck with the down field passing game, they could have put up 70 points or more. It's hard to criticize this unit for anything when it puts up 42 first-half points and 718 yards of total offense, but the three interceptions and the fumble by Nuk will need to be addressed this week in practice. Also, Andre Ellington went out after just one carry, and his health will be of primary importance in the coming weeks. Overall, another dominant performance for one of the top offenses in the country. And hey, it was great to see Cole Stoudt get in a touchdown pass to Charone Peake as well.

It was thought Duke's passing attack would be a test for Clemson's vulnerable secondary, and that turned to be the case. Sean Renfree was lethal with a handful of deep throws in the first-half, including a 77-yard TD strike to Jamison Crowder. Fortunately, the defense somewhat settled in after that. Again, there were missed tackles, especially on the perimeter, and the Clemson secondary struggled at times locating the ball. But there were also some big plays too - including sacks by Josh Watson, Tig Willard, Tavaris Barnes and Vic Beasley. The defense remains a work in progress, and there will be plenty of teachable points for Brent Venables working with his unit in the film room next week. But keep in mind, Clemson gave up 342 total yards and only surrendered 3 points in the second half.

There was nothing that truly stood out about Clemson's special teams, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Spencer Benton only punted once and Chandler Catanzaro made all eight of his extra points. For the most part, the return game was OK and the kick coverage teams were as well. A workman-like performance across the board results in the solid "B" grade.

It's hard to believe it's been eight years since Clemson rolled into Wallace Wade Stadium having beaten a top 10 Miami team in the Orange Bowl the week before, only to walk out 16-13 losers. But indeed, that's exactly how long it's been. Fortunately, this crew under Dabo Swinney seems incapable of such a let down. Clemson scored on its first four possessions and was never challenged after that. The team was motivated from the get-go, throttling Duke the way it should.

With three home games left in the season, the Tigers needed a solid win before returning to Death Valley, and they got it. However, much like previous victories over Georgia Tech, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, there was plenty to feel good about, but also still a ton of room for improvement. The offense is one of the most productive units the ACC has ever seen, while the defense is... you guessed it, a work in progress. Regardless of what happens with Florida State, the next three weeks will present Clemson the opportunity to work its way into legitimate at-large BCS bid. Should the Tigers win out, their resume should be good enough to either secure a bid to the Fiesta or Sugar Bowls. If FSU can somehow stumble at either Virginia Tech or Maryland, the Tigers will have a chance to repeat as ACC champs. There's so much to play for as this program tries to post back-to-back 10 win seasons for the first time in 20 years. Top Stories