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Sunday Night Cap: Grading the Tigers

This season I will be grading the performance of the Offense, Defense and Special Teams for each Clemson game. Here are the grades for the season opener in Death Valley versus Wofford. CUTigers contributor Gary McDaniel has included his synopsis as well.


Overall, the offense did just about whatever it wanted to do. It's hard to imagine a quarterback looking sharper in a season opener than Deshaun Watson did on Saturday. He was 18-22 for 194 yards, with 2 TD's and no INT's, and he only played about half the game. His QB rating for the game was a whopping 185.9. The offense scored a touchdown on all five of the possessions in which Watson and the other starters were in the game. The Clemson offense showed excellent balance with 311 passing yards for 2 TD's and 222 rushing yards for 5 TD's. Not only was the offense balanced, but so was the work load. Three different running backs had touchdowns--Gallman and Dye with two apiece, and Zac Brooks had his first score since his injury. 12 different Clemson players recorded a reception.

One of the big question marks about this offense going into the season--according to many--was the offensive line, and how it would perform with some key losses from last year and a true freshman, Mitch Hyatt, starting at left tackle. The answer is that it performed about as well as anyone could have expected. They didn't allow a single tackle for loss and only (technically) allowed one sack. The sack was not even the fault of the offensive line but was more of a mistake by QB Nick Schuessler. In particular, Mitch Hyatt was outstanding in his first college football game, grading out at 92%. His recruiting classmate Jake Fruhmorgen acquitted himself well also. Starting center Ryan Norton left the game early with a knee injury, but Jay Guillermo was ready to step in, and the offense didn't miss a beat.

The offense converted 9 out of 15 third downs (60%), which is an excellent average, was 2/2 on 4th down and was much better in the red zone than it was last season. The Tigers converted touchdowns in the red zone on 5 trips out of 6, or 83%. Last season, the offense scored touchdowns only 25 times out of 52 trips and was 110th in the nation in red zone offense. Of course, Deshaun Watson's injuries last season contributed a lot to that statistic. As nice as it was to see the offense score touchdowns instead of field goals, I think many of us were hoping to get freshman kicker Greg Huegel a field goal or two under his belt to build his confidence. Funny how that works, isn't it?

The tempo of the offense was outstanding--especially for a first game. The target for the season is around 80 plays per game, and that is exactly how many there were. More impressively, though, the offense ran a tremendous 49 plays in the first half, which is when the starters were on the field most. 

The offensive staff was able to accomplish its goal of getting both Schuessler and true freshman Kelly Bryant some playing time at quarterback, and both played well. Each led the offense to touchdowns. Kelly Bryant showcased his athleticism and showed remarkable poise after an errant snap went sailing into the end zone. Bryant not only prevented a safety, but he ran it all the way back to the line of scrimmage for a gain on the play.

The only real negative for the offense was the poor ball security. Schuessler had one fumble and the offense had a couple other fumbles but was able to recover. There was also the bad snap over Bryant's head that went into the end zone. Let's hope we don't see any more of those this season! The good news is that there were no interceptions thrown by any of the three quarterbacks.



It felt like the defense was out to make a statement on Saturday. All those players heard during the offseason is how Clemson had lost 11 players on that side of the ball to the NFL and that they were going to be the weakness of the team this season. Well if that is true, then Clemson fans should be in for a very special season because the defense did not look like a liability against a veteran Wofford group that runs a difficult triple-option offense for which to prepare. Coach Swinney and Coach Venables had been telling us throughout preseason camp how talented the defense was despite the youth and inexperience, and we caught a glimpse of that on Saturday. Wofford did not convert a first down until just under two minutes left in the first half. Wofford only scored one touchdown, but it was after Clemson had appeared to complete a 4-play goal line stand. After Wofford had already been stopped at the goal line, the officials ruled that a timeout was called from the Wofford sideline just before the ball was snapped. Right before that transpired, Safety T.J. Green flew like a banshee to track the Wofford tight end down at the pylon and knock him out of bounds before scoring. It was an outstanding hustle play on his part, as most players would have conceded the touchdown with a 35-0 lead. Again, it was evident that the defense was playing with a chip on its shoulder and wanted a shutout. That same determination was exhibited by their fight at the goal line for five plays. The defense showed tremendous effort all day long. They yielded only 213 yards and 10 points.

Much was made of the loss of starting senior defensive tackle D.J. Reader, but the other DT's played very well in his stead. Scott Pagano and Jabril Robinson were outstanding, and so were true freshmen Christian Wilkins and Albert Huggins in their first college football game. 9 different players recorded a tackle for loss. There was only one sack by the defense--from Jabril Robinson--but usually Wofford does not allow many sacks because of the nature of their option offense. The QB rarely drops back to pass the ball.

If there was one negative for the defense, it was that they didn't generate a single turnover. Wofford did fumble the ball once, but they were able to recover it. The defense was able to create some turnovers in the scrimmages during camp, so hopefully we won't see this become a trend. Wofford only attempted 18 passes the entire game, and the strength of Clemson's defense is its secondary, so perhaps we will see an interception or two in the next game against App State.

There were also a couple of breakdowns on assignments, such as the one to the tight end that set up Wofford’s only touchdodwn, but for the most part the defense did a good job of staying disciplined and the team effort was an A+.



Freshman WR Hunter Renfrow, who had a good game for the most part, lost a fumble on a punt return, which led to Wofford's only touchdown. I guess if something like that is going to happen, it's good that it happened in a blowout. They can't afford to commit mistakes like that in their first road game at Louisville in 11 days. However, the coverage unit did a good job--allowing -6 yards on 5 punt returns--and freshman Greg Huegel did a nice job on kickoffs, with 3 touchbacks on 7 kicks. Artavis Scott will be a welcome addition on kick returns this season. I don't believe he did much if any of that last season, but he is so elusive in open space that he could break a long return at any time. He had a 16-yard punt return and a 39-yard kick return. Teasdall did a decent job on punts, averaging 33.8 per, and one of those was inside the 20 yard line. Huegel looked cool as a cucumber on PAT's, hitting all 6 of them. Again, it would have been nice for him to get a field goal under his belt, but one would think the 6 PAT's will still be good for his confidence. Spence also made his one PAT attempt. It was good to seen no bad snaps or gaffs on the PAT's, which can sometimes occur in opening games. Hopefully that portends good things for the FG unit in future games.


Gary's Grades



The day started off with the offense getting the ball on the 25 after a touchback. Then the 1st team offense proceeded to drive the field with a great mixture of run/pass and traverse the 75 yards with ease, culminating with the TD pass to Mike Williams that saw him get injured. 

I saw an offense that was as crisp as the reports we were getting out of camp the past 2 weeks.  So far, all this camp it’s just been a “putting the pieces in place, just be Clemson” and worry about that attitude.

That is what I saw yesterday—a very businesslike first team, led by a very efficient Deshaun Watson, spreading the ball around to all his skilled players.  And an offensive line that was as athletic a starting five as I have ever seen take the field in Clemson.

Running Back Wayne Gallman managed to accumulate 92 yards, averaging over 6 yards a carry for the day in limited duties.  But the Georgia native was very efficient with all his opportunities.  C.J. Davidson, Tyshon Dye, Zac Brooks and C.J. Fuller all got in the rotation and had multiple carries. Dye and Brooks both scored TD’s, and Brooks’s 24-yard scamper was quite impressive—showing us he may be finally healthy after 3 years of fighting the “injury bug” off. Fuller was also impressive, running with power and vision to add to this stable of really competent RB’s.

Wide receivers continued to shine, with Mike Williams (prior to injury) and Artavis Scott both just continuing along with the same success they saw all of last year.  Add in the new blood of Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain, plus guys like Trevion Thompson and Hunter Renfow are also filling roles and are dependable targets. 

Overall, the Tigers were efficient with the first team and not so much with the second or third. This was all to be expected, as par for the course in a first game against a less talented opponent. 



A lot of questions surrounded this group after last season, and with the mass exodus to the NFL rightly so.  After yesterday it’s going to be hard to really get a true grade on them considering the triple-option offense that Wofford ran.

The questions about DE and the LB depth, and how this DL would measure up to the program’s best defensive line group ever seemed to be answered to a small measure. Again, this opponent is the anomaly on the schedule and  we need to see this defense against spread and pro style offenses and also rosters that match up player wise.

The biggest surprise to me was one Jabril Robinson, who got into the game and did nothing but disrupt and cause havoc on every play. He is a player that has quietly had an impressive fall camp.  Same must be said of first-teamer Scott Pagano, who was in absolute “beast mode” on one series. It was single-handedly stopped on 3 downs by the Hawaiian defensive tackle.  Play after play, Pagano was two yards deep in the Wofford backfield with an OG attached to his out-stretched jersey.  If he was not making the tackle, it was his pressure that forced the issue.

Coach Venables had these guys very focused for the first game of the year, and the inferior opponent did not have these guys taking the day lightly.  A serious bunch and mixture of veterans and new players dominated this Wofford offense.  The Terriers had to resort to several “trick plays” to generate any offense, and that is where the grade dropped for me from A to B+.  The back end guys got burned a couple times there not “staying home” and managing their responsibilities and showing the same “focus” and  “discipline” the DL and LB have to play with on every play when facing this type of offense.  But this defense took a good step in the right direction with an impressive performance and getting a lot of bodies in the mix.

Freshmen like Wilkins, Ferrell, Bryant were all involved and got a lot of time on the field as well as did veterans like Kevin Dodd and others that are stepping up to fill the spaces left by graduation. Overall, it was a good day on defense for the Tigers. Top Stories