GRADES: Gutty performance falls short

CUTigers publisher Roy Philpott assesses Clemson's overtime loss at No. 1 Florida State.

Let's start at quarterback, where a true freshman came off the bench and showed the kind of poise we haven't seen at Clemson in quite some time. Make no mistake about it, Deshaun Watson is the starter going forward, and he gives Tiger fans hope that this season can end in strong fashion. What did we see that was good from the offense? How about the fact 11 different players caught passes, the offensive line held up reasonably well for four quarters, and Watson's ability to deliver the football down the field accurately under pressure was incredible. What about what needs work? Well, the consistent high snap from center Ryan Norton- one of which resulted in a loss of nearly 20 yards on second-and-goal, the late fumble by C.J. Davidson which probably cost Clemson the upset win, and the play of Clemson's tight ends. Where is Jordan Leggett and how come he hasn't been more of a factor in Clemson's offensive production? The ground game was adequate, and is also still in search of big plays. Overall, Chad Morris put together a winning game plan, but the high snap and the late fumble were too much to overcome on the road against the No. 1 team in the land.

Clemson needed to attack Sean Maguire and it did. It was almost as if former defensive coordinator Reggie Herring was dialing up blitzes Saturday night in Tallahassee. The Tigers registered 10 tackles for loss, including five sacks, while limiting FSU to just 13 rushing yards. However, like the offense, there were plays that were hard to explain, including Mackensie Alexander slipping on the 74-yard touchdown pass on 2nd-and-24 (ugh) and always chatty Nick O'Leary getting open so many times. For the most part, it felt like this unit played winning football. Stephone Anthony and Vic Beasley reminded us of just how special they can be as well. Corey Crawford also did a good job during regulation of setting the edge. And you have to love the aggressive play calling and the execution. Some pundits will suggest the fact that Jameis Winston didn't play greatly assisted the Tigers here, and I agree. It's hard to argue his on-the-field talent, but it's also hard to argue how well this group played Saturday too. And they would have some success against him had he actually seen the field. Let's hope we see more of this improvement from Clemson's defense in the coming weeks. There's a lot to feel encouraged about.

The missed field goals were atrocious. Dabo Swinney said after the game he will now open up the kicking competition to true freshman Alex Spence, who was expected to redshirt this season. The poor coverage on kick returns was also discouraging as Kermit Whitfield had a 56 yard kickoff return and Rashad Greene added a 28 yard punt return. If you think about it, this unit played as big of a role in the loss, if not bigger than the mistakes discussed above. Massive change is needed here. Now.

The staff put together a game plan that was clearly good enough to beat the No. 1 team in the country on the road and it was on the verge of happening. In fact, you could make the argument if just one of six different plays turned out without Clemson slapping itself in the face, the Tigers would have won this game. Think about it: Stoudt misses a wide open Jordan Leggett in the end zone. Ammon Lakip misses two field goals inside of 40 yards. Alexander trips and falls on the long scoring pass on 2nd-and-24. The high snap or C.J. Davidson actually scoring on the play before (which it looked like he did). Or the late fumble with Clemson driving for the winning score. It's painful to reflect on it all, but the staff had this team in position to win... the execution wasn't there when it needed to be.

It's hard to feel good after a loss like that, and clearly no fan, player or coach does. But there is reason for optimism the rest of the season. Watson is the starter. The defense is emerging. And most importantly, Clemson should be favored in every game from here on out due to a favorable schedule. There will be no magical run to the first-ever College Football Playoff this year, but this team can still get to 10 wins, beat its arch rival and go to a very good bowl game. In the meantime, it will be fun to watch the Deshaun Watson era begin and see just how special this guy can be. Clemson has good coaches. It has good players. And things will get better after last night's setback, starting next Saturday night against North Carolina. Top Stories