GRADES: Ugly win at N.C. State

RALEIGH, N.C. - For whatever reason, Clemson's offense never truly found its rhythm Thursday night at N.C. State. Fortunately, the defense did.

Tajh Boyd's numbers certainly look pretty good: 24-of-37 passing for 244 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately, those stats only tell part of the story. Boyd missed two wide open receivers in the first half (for potential touchdowns) that could have completely changed the tone of the game. Also, his intermediate throws were also off as Clemson's offense bogged down for the better part of three quarters. Part of that was due to the fact his offensive line failed him early, yielding three early sacks. Part of that was also early drops by his wide receivers as well. Credit N.C. State for playing well up front, but clearly, Clemson never found the kind of rhythm it's used to finding in the Chad Morris era. Roderick McDowell had a strong night and could be positioning himself for more of a featured role as his senior season continues. Martavis Bryant also rebounded from a poor first half with two critical second-half touchdowns. Clemson really needs more of that this season to live up to expectations. In a way, it's a semi-relief to win a game in which the offense struggles. But it's also unnerving, too.

How about Vic Beasley? For most of the night, Beasley was unblockable, routinely setting up shop in the N.C. State backfield and forcing Pete Thomas to either get rid of the ball before he wanted to, or by bringing him down for the sack. He also had one of the biggest plays of the game, forcing a Pete Thomas fumble just moments after it appeared N.C. State was going to take the lead on an end-around play that was later called back. In all, N.C. State tallied 378 total yards, with more than 80 coming on a 24-play drive by the time the outcome had essentially been decided. There are definite concerns in defending underneath drag routes, not to mention the wheel route, but overall the defense played pretty well. Clemson's front seven has improved drastically in the last year- to the point where even true freshman Shaq Lawson was making plays behind the line of scrimmage. It wasn't perfect and N.C. State's offense is far from electric, but it was a pretty strong performance all things considered. Lastly, Stephone Anthony is starting to put together a pretty good season too. More of that, please.

Chandler Catanzaro's two early field goals gave Clemson badly-needed momentum as multiple drives stalled time and time again. The return game was once again average and Bradley Pinion's kickoffs didn't find the end zone with the same regularity they did in the first two games. Overall, there was nothing special about Thursday night's special teams performance, however Catanzaro's two field goals yield the "B" grade. Also, Catanzaro is now Clemson's new all-time leading scorer too. Couldn't happen to a better guy.

It's hard to suggest Clemson came out flat. Certainly the defense played well but the offense seemed to follow Tajh's lead in the first half. A win is a win but clearly playing at this level won't be acceptable against the better teams on Clemson's 2013 schedule - namely Florida State, Georgia Tech and South Carolina. Chalk this one up as a learning experience and hopefully Morris can push different buttons with Boyd to loosen him up earlier in the game in coming weeks.

When you are ranked No. 3 in the nation and competing for a National Championship, a road win of any kind, no matter how ugly it may be, is huge. Much of what was witnessed in Raleigh leaves plenty to be desired. The one concern is that it felt as if Clemson was pressing offensively early on. Morris has to find a way to overcome that and his quarterback has to realize he doesn't have to be superman each and every drive. The encouraging aspect from the win is the defense. Clearly, this unit has made strides from last year and can be depended on to make more plays that originally thought. No one will be satisfied after a win like this and you know what? That's not necessarily a bad thing. Survive and advance. Top Stories