Tigers overcome adversity in strange win

CUTigers publisher Roy Philpott hands out grades from Clemson's strange win at Wake Forest.

It took longer than expected, and it was far from pretty, but Clemson's offense finally found a rhythm when it needed it most. After Wake tied the game 20-20, the simple end around play to Artavis Scott gave the Tigers a quick lead and then a 9-play 72-yard drive put the game away more than halfway through the fourth quarter. Before that, there were more missed assignments by the offensive line, more poor decisions at quarterback and more bone-headed plays by everyone else on the field to count. Another skill position player dropped a pitch on a critical fourth down play that could have scored. Stoudt stared down his receivers several times and missed an open Jordan Leggett on at least three occasions - including once in the end zone. His final numbers were good: 27-for-42 for 270 yards and three touchdowns, but it felt more like a struggle for most of the night more than anything else. Credit Wayne Gallman for going over 100 yards rushing for the second straight game. Credit this unit for playing better as the game progressed as the Tigers scored on five of six possessions at one point. And lastly, credit the team for overcoming massive amounts of adversity. Perhaps this unit finally turned the corner in that fourth quarter?

The nation's No. 2 defense looked the part for most of the evening - everywhere but the scoreboard. But most of that fell on the shoulders of the offense and special teams as two first half turnovers led to two Wake touchdowns. At the end of it all the stat sheet reveals Clemson gave up just 119 total yards, including just seven on the ground. Shaq Lawson led the way with four tackles for loss and Grady Jarrett added five stops, including 2.5 tackles for loss himself. Brent Venables did a great job dialing up pressure early to set the tone, even though he admitted afterwards the team didn't have the same edge it had in previous weeks and made too mistakes. Clemson struggled with the draw on third down and long, which was odd, but it wasn't catastrophic. All in all, the stats look better than what the game felt like- hence the "B-" grade.

The muffed punt by Adam Humphries is hard to get over. Still, Bradley Pinion did a good job kicking with and against the wind and Ammon Lakip continues to close his first year as a starting placekicker in very strong fashion. The return game continues to feel like a struggle, but all in all, Clemson's special teams have improved this season - especially in the kicking game.

Was the team flat in the first quarter? Maybe. Did it have the hard edge on defense it had in recent weeks? Probably not. Did early mistakes cost the team in a significant way? Absolutely. Still, the Tigers found a way to win by two touchdowns on the road, in a conference game, on a Thursday night. It's not the end of the world and it was far from perfect but it goes down as a win. No, it certainly wasn't the best job of the season by the staff, but that's OK. Live and learn.

Clemson fans hoped for a blowout but it never happened. There were too many mistakes, too many penalties and not enough consistent execution to get the job done. As far as I'm concerned, it's all a moot point because all that matters now is finding a way to win these next three games. Deshaun Watson should return next weekend in Atlanta and that should help. But it's also obvious he needs better blocking by the offensive line than what Cole Stoudt. There has been a recent run of games where it felt like if the Tigers had faced a better team, the outcome would have been different. Well, that should change against a very explosive Georgia Tech squad on Nov. 15. Fortunately, the team gets extra time to prepare while Tech has a road trip to N.C. State. And, the Yellow Jackets' defense hasn't been dreadful for most of the season as well- so that could assist a Clemson offense that has struggled with consistently all season long. We'll see.

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