GRADES: Clemson belongs in national picture

CLEMSON - CUTigers publisher Roy Philpott assesses Clemson's 38-35 win and looks ahead to the coming weeks.

While Tajh Boyd will garner most of the headlines, and rightfully so, his offensive line did a great job protecting him, yielding just one sack for a one-yard loss. Additionally, Roderick McDowell had his coming-out party with 22 carries for 132 yards. And how about that running game? The Tigers pounded out 197 rushing yards as Chad Morris continued to call McDowell's number, mixing in just enough Zac Brooks and Boyd along the way. The only disappointing aspect of the offense was Martavis Bryant, who failed to record a catch. The Tigers also didn't have to resort to trick plays to keep Georgia off-balance. It was Boyd-to-Sammy-Watkins and McDowell on the ground and was enough. In all, the Tigers piled up 38 points and 467 yards. Those kinds of numbers should be good enough to win a game like this, and they were.

For the first 20 minutes of the game, it looked as if Georgia couldn't be stopped. Todd Gurley raced untouched 75 yards for the easiest touchdown of his career and Aaron Murray carved up Clemson's secondary thought the air. Four sacks later, however, and the game took on a different feel. Vic Beasley got to Murray twice, Tavaris Barnes once and it was game on. Murray threw a costly interception on a perfectly called zone-blitz by Brent Venables shortly before halftime and never quite found the same early-game rhythm after that. Sure, the secondary is a work in progress and this unit still has plenty of work to do, but there is reason for optimism here. Remember, Georgia will put 500+ yards of offense against nearly every opponent on its 2013 schedule. This will be one of the most talented units Clemson faces all season, yet Clemson found a way to win. Not bad. And oh by the way, Spencer Shuey led all tacklers with 12 stops. He continues to be a bright spot with the Clemson linebackers.

The good? Let's start with the kicking game. Bradley Pinion was a perfect 7-for-7 with kickoffs going for touchbacks and averaged over 40 yards net per punt. Chandler Catanzaro was perfect on his lone field goal attempt. The not-so-good? The muffed punt by Watkins and Georgia executing a first-half fake punt to perfection. Watkins is a risk taker on punt returns and should be shelved in favor of Adam Humphries. Humphries is a known commodity that essentially guarantees Clemson will get an offensive possession, even if he isn't an explosive returner.

It's obvious this team was ready to play. In fact, both teams were, Clemson simply made more plays in the second half. The offensive game plan was brilliant as Boyd routinely found Watkins and the running game worked to perfection. Defensively, Brent Venables dialed up a couple blitzes at key moments and his unit stood toe-to-toe with one of the top offenses in the country for the majority of the second half. Bigger picture, these used to be the kinds of games Clemson found a way to lose. No more. Credit Dabo Swinney for having this team motivated, focused and ready to make to history.

Simply put, it's been years since that kind of atmosphere has been seen in Death Valley. The place was packed an hour before kickoff, roaring in support of Danny Ford being inducted into the Ring of Honor, and it didn't empty out until the wee hours of Sunday morning. Bravo Clemson students! Bravo Clemson fans! Bravo every person that was at Memorial Stadium Saturday evening.

This was Clemson's biggest home game since the 1988 matchup versus Florida State and the team responded beautifully. With Saturday night's win over No. 5 Georgia in the books, Clemson has now positioned itself as a National Championship contender. Up next? Well, the Tigers get S.C. State next week before an open date and then a Thursday night tilt at N.C. State. With Clemson answering so many questions last night, the new vibe from pundits will center around this team being upset by a weaker foe. There are dangerous games on the horizon, including the trip to Raleigh, plus the Syracuse game, which will be the Orange's first-ever ACC matchup. Syracuse has beaten ranked teams in the Carrier Dome in each of the last five seasons while the Wolfpack have beaten either Clemson or Florida State in each of the last three seasons. Dabo Swinney has proven he's changed the culture here, but this will be tested more than ever before the next two months as the bull's eye on Clemson's back is bigger than its been since the late 1980's. Still, the stage is set. We haven't seen a start to a season much better than this in quite some time... can it continue? Right now, there's no reason to think otherwise. Top Stories