GRADES: Tigers a work in progress

CLEMSON - CUTigers publisher Roy Philpott assesses Clemson's 50-35 win over North Carolina.

Freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson was sensational. Making his first career start, he set a single-game Clemson record with six touchdown passes and it probably could have been more given North Carolina's poor play in the secondary. It was also nice to see breakout performances by wide receivers Germone Hopper and Mike Williams, and freshman Artavis Scott bullied his way into the endzone on scoring strike midway through the second half too. Pundits will point to the fact Clemson never established the run, but give some credit North Carolina's scheme for stacking the box and essentially taking that aspect of the game away. Still, the offensive line was shaky at times and the lack of explosiveness by Clemson's running backs is semi-concerning now a quarter of the way through the season. The quarterback rotation was also awkward. We all want to see Cole Stoudt succeed, but inserting him into the game broke offensive rhythm and allowed UNC back into the game -- twice. Scoring 50-points was great, but Clemson may not face a worse defense the rest of the 2014 season.

Anybody else noticing how this unit tends to play in spurts? When its challenged and given no respect- look out. When it's given a lead or the game appears to be in hand, the mentality seems to change. The Tigers struggled defending the tunnel screen throughout and lack of physicality throughout the second half was alarming. Clemson did get a couple of drive ending sacks, and at times you could see the light come on, but giving up 35 points and 478 total yards is not good. Lost in the shuffle was Gerry Peters, who recorded eight tackles, including two for loss and two pass breakups. Vic Beasley also had two sacks, giving him 27 in his college career. Looking at the bigger picture, it felt like Clemson's defense regressed Saturday night. Where was the defense that showed up in Tallahassee eight days ago?

It was a bounce-back performance for kicker Ammon Lakip as he connected on both of his field goal tries - one from 27 yards out, the other from 45. His job on the first team is safe from one more week, however Bradley Pinion could be given a shot if another short field goal is missed. Speaking of Pinion, he had four touchbacks on nine kickoffs and also averaged a respectable 47 yards per punt. The return game is still average, but this unit looked a lot better Saturday night than what it did against FSU.

It had to be gut-wrenching to turn on the film last Sunday. A sure-fire win turned into a stunning loss at the hands of the No. 1 team in the land. Getting the team amped up after a setback like that can't be easy, but yet the staff did a good job in getting them focused in time for North Carolina. The quarterback situation feels a little messy the way Stoudt was brought in during the second quarter, but that wasn't a deal breaker. Also, the defense needs more consistency and the offense needs a running game. All in all, a 15-point win over the Tar Heels is a good start to a three-game home stand.

North Carolina is going to make a lot of offenses look explosive this year, so most of the offensive numbers from Saturday need to be taken with a grain of salt. At the same time, it's pretty obvious Clemson has a big-time star in the making at quarterback in Deshaun Watson. Whether he's ready to be the face of the program or not is irrelevant because he already is. The rest of season will depend on his decision making and his ability to get the ball down the field in the passing game. Since the loss at FSU, fans point to the idea of Clemson "running the table" to end the year at 10-2 and while that's possible, this team has to play much better than it did Saturday night to get there. Watson has to be more of a factor in the running game and the defense can't fall asleep for quarters at a time. Next weekend, N.C. State comes to down at 4-1 with a very dangerous quarterback in Jacoby Brissett running the show. The last four games between these two teams have produced Clemson wins of 14, 12 and 1 point, along with a 24-point blowout loss in Raleigh. Unless the Tigers can lock in defensively and manufacture more of a running game, there's no reason to think the Wolfpack can't hang around and make things interesting. Clearly, the Tigers remain a work in progress. Top Stories