It was another dominant win for the Tigers on Saturday night, as Clemson had a comfortable 24-point lead late in the 4th quarter. It was nice to finally have some good football weather after consecutive wet, rainy games. It was a star-studded night both literally and figuratively, as several former Clemson players were on the sideline, including Grady Jarrett, Adam Humphries, Tavaris Barnes and Brian Dawkins. Dawkins delivered a pep talk to the team on Saturday before the game, and apparently it had the intended effect, as the Tigers played well in all three phases for another convincing win over Boston College. Here are the grades for each unit….
The offense got off to a much slower start than we are accustomed to. They scored on their first two possessions against both Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, but on Saturday they started the game with a three-and-out, an interception and another three-and-out before BC was called for roughing the punter, allowing the Tigers to get going. After that penalty, the Clemson offense was able to go 60 yards for a touchdown.
Deshaun Watson also got off to a rocky start, throwing an INT on the second possession and overthrowing three open WR’s on deep balls—any of which could have gone for a touchdown. That was easily the most inaccurate I have seen Watson in his short career. That’s not a knock on him, but a testament to how good he has been. For most QB’s, missing a few deep passes is par for the course. Watson has spoiled us with his uncanny accuracy, and we expect him to have laser precision 100 percent of the time. Watson did settle in, though, and was able to put perfect touch on several big throws later in the game. He finished 27-41, with 420 yards passing and 3 TD’s. He also ran for 32 yards and a touchdown. It was the second game in Watson’s career throwing over 400 yards—the other came in his first career start against UNC. Not bad for an off night against the #1-ranked pass defense in the entire nation!
Gallman had his roughest outing of the season, rushing for just 48 yards on 17 carries. Of course, BC had the #1-ranked rush defense coming in for a reason. Brooks, however, continued to show he is ready to be a major contributor to the offense. He had 22 yards rushing on only 2 carries, but he made a bigger impact on the passing game. Tony Elliott made a brilliant call for a screen pass to Brooks after a timeout on 4th and 1. That went for a 21-yard touchdown. It was Brooks’s first TD reception since the amazing TD catch he made against UGA in 2013. It is definitely nice to see Brooks playing at a high level again. As a former WR, he catches the ball a lot better than Gallman, and he will provide a nice counter-punch to the Wayne Train.
Overall, 532 total yards—against a team that came in ranked #1 in total defense—is outstanding. The offense definitely missed some opportunities to put more points on the board, but they did score 34 on a team that was #2 in scoring defense and allowing just 7 points per game. They had allowed only one touchdown in ACC play, and that was against FSU. It is also nice to know that the offense can score and win in different ways. They went run-heavy against Notre Dame and Louisville—Notre Dame partly out of necessity due to the weather, and Louisville because of their defensive scheme. Against BC, however, they were loading up to stop the run, leaving their DB’s on an island, and the offense was able to exploit that. As we enter the second half of the season and a two-game road stretch, we will have to be able to score in different ways, and we have seen that they have that ability. Those who were pensive about the play-calling against Louisville and Notre Dame should also be well-appeased by now. Elliott took a lot more shots down field on Saturday night, and if we hadn’t missed several throws, the score would have been a lot more lopsided.
Leggett has now caught a touchdown in each of the last 4 games, with 5 total. That is the first time a Clemson TE has done that since 1983. A few of those TD's had a huge impact on the game, as well. I voted for Leggett on my ACC first-team ballot, and if he continues to play at this level, he will not only receive that honor, but he will also be in the running for All-American.
Deon Cain had his second straight big game and made an incredible, juggling catch for over 30 yards. That was the kind of acrobatic catch I saw him make in practice, and the staff knew it was only a matter of time before we started to see that talent manifest on game day. He also had an electrifying play late in the game that went 67 yards, all the way to the goal line. It would have been great if he could have gotten into the end zone on the latter play, but it is exciting to see that the cerebral aspect of the game is starting to catch up with Cain’s immense physical prowess. If he can continue to make the big plays down field that we were used to getting from Mike Williams on a regular basis, this offense will be a complete machine. Cain is able!
On the negative side, Deshaun missed some big throws, as I alluded to earlier. He also had two interceptions. The first was a poor decision, in which he stared down the WR and didn’t see the safety sitting on the pass. On the second, Watson’s arm was hit as he was throwing, so that one was more on the offensive line than on him. Speaking of the offensive line, Dabo said it was probably the worst game Hyatt and Fruhmorgen played, but it’s easy to forget that these guys are just true freshmen and going against one of the best defenses in the nation. The O-Line allowed 3 sacks and 7 tackles-for-loss. Hopefully both of those will be highs for the season. The offense also did a poor job on 3rd down, converting just 5 of 15. For these reasons, the offense gets a respectable, but relatively low, B plus.
Halfway through the season, it is quite clear that the starting defense is one of the best in the nation—if not the best. They allowed that first touchdown after Watson’s interception set BC up with good field position, but after that they allowed only 3 points until the game was over for all intents and purposes. They allowed only 246 yards of total offense, and 39 yards of it came on a missed assignment at the end of the game, when the backups were in. That play set BC up at the 4-yard-line and led to a meaningless touchdown, giving the Eagles 17 points. They only had 2 sacks on Saturday, which is not too surprising given that BC’s quarterback runs so well. Ben Boulware told me that it “sucks” playing against a QB like him because Boulware had perfect leverage on him 3 times, and Smith just ran right by him. Despite the low sack total, however, the defense recorded an impressive 8 tackles-for-loss. Third down defense continues to be a big strength—BC was 3 of 15 on 3rd down conversions. It was a little disappointing that the defense didn’t force any turnovers this week. They did a good job of that in the last couple games. Boulware dropped a ball that hit him in the hands, which is rarity. Overall, though, it was another suffocating performance by the defense and worthy of an A minus.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Once again, the special teams were special. The coverage unit didn’t allow any big returns, and Huegel was 2-2 on FG’s. He is now 8-10, incidentally, with a few clutch makes. Not bad for a redshirt freshman who is a former walk-on! The addition of Lakip on kickoffs has certainly been welcome—he had 4 touchbacks the other night. Teasdall continues to be a steady successor to Bradley Pinion. His average was a little lower than the previous couple of games but still a respectable 37.5 yards. I would say our return game leaves something to be desired—particularly on punts. Bear in mind that Artavis is new at this, but he is a little tentative on the punt returns. He needs to get up field quicker. He also muffed one, that he fortunately recovered, and he made a poor decision to catch one that was headed for the end zone. I have noticed that he is often catching punts while moving backward, and that is a recipe for disaster. He needs to learn to err on the side of playing too deep so he can always catch the ball moving forward. It is the same principal outfielders apply to fly balls: it is a lot easier to run forward than backward. Scott's skill and elusiveness are undeniable, and I am hopeful that he will get better with experience. That could be a huge weapon for us at the end of the season. I am also hopeful that Ray Ray will start making some big plays in the return game consistently. He was a shoe-string tackle away from breaking one the other night that might have gone the distance. All-in-all, it was another excellent job by special teams but for the mediocrity in the return game. Therefore, they get an A minus this week.