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Review and Evaluation of the #3 Clemson Tigers' Performance Against NC State

#3 Clemson committed 4 turnovers, including 3 in the red zone and a pick-six, in its 24-17 overtime win over NC State in Death Valley.

First off, a disclaimer. Obviously, the law of averages came back to bite me in a big way last week. After missing my score prediction by one solitary point for the BC game, I was way off on the NC State game. But I would like to point out in my defense that if not for the pick-six by Watson (a career first), I would have only been off by 3 points on the defensive side, and the offense moved the ball well enough to score the 48 points I predicted. However, they wound up turning the ball over every time they got near the goal line. Not to mention that when you lose Wayne Gallman for the game on the opening possession, all bets go out the window. It’s impossible to predict things like fluke turnovers and injuries, so I hope my credibility didn’t take too hard of a hit. Hopefully I’ll be closer to the mark on the next one! Now that I’ve unburdened myself, on to the grades….

 

OFFENSE: D-

Player of the game: Mitch Hyatt

This is a really strange game to grade from an offensive standpoint. On one hand, you can look at the final score and the 4 turnovers by the offense and say it’s an F performance. On the other hand, they moved the ball effectively all day long to the tune of 495 yards against a defense ranked #8 in total defense. The Tigers nearly doubled the season average yardage allowed by the Pack. Unfortunately, when you have 3 turnovers in the red zone and a 4th that goes for a pick-six, it’s going to affect your scoring. In fact, they also turned the ball over on downs on the NC State goal line, so if you count that it makes 5 turnovers with 4 coming in the red zone and 3 inside the 10 yard line! The Tigers should have scored at least 20-24 more points than they did, and NC State should have only scored 10 points, but Watson committed his first career pick-six.

Dabo said he thought this was the best game the offense has played, sans the turnovers, and a closer look at the numbers reveals why he feels that way. Again, they netted 495 total yards on 83 plays in regulation, just over the target number. The Tigers were an impressive 10 of 17 on 3rd down and 3 of 4 on 4th down, including a 4th and long conversion that set up the touchdown with 10 seconds left before halftime. That was a another great two-minute drill executed by the offense before the half—one of a few we have seen this season. The offense had just one three-and-out and two punts in the entire game.

Outside of the pick-six, Watson had and outstanding game, completing exactly 75% of his passes. He had a whopping 39 completions for 378 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game-winner to Artavis Scott in overtime. He made several clutch throws along the way as well, such as the aforementioned 4th and long pass to Ray-Ray on the touchdown drive before halftime. He did, however overthrow another would-be touchdown—one of several he has had this season.

As far as the running game, there’s no getting around that it was disappointing after the loss of Gallman. In particular, Choice averaged just 2.8 yards on 5 carries. Fuller did a better job at 3.5 yards per carry and picked up a huge 4th down conversion in overtime on a gutsy call by the coaches. Frankly, I was surprised they showed the confidence in Fuller to put the ball in his hands on that paly with the game on the line. He had been stoned on a 3rd and short earlier in the game, and if he had been stopped on that overtime play, it was very likely the Tigers would lose. Dye was removed after the disappointing fumble inside the State 5 yard line, and the coaches were reluctant to put Feaster into such a high-pressure situation with everything riding on every play. Personally, I would have liked to see Feaster get at least an opportunity or two in the first half or early in the 3rd when the game wasn’t on the line yet, but you have to trust Tony Elliott to make that call because he sees his backs compete every day in practice and has the best idea where they stand in the pecking order. Watson did not have his best day running the ball, but he did finally pick up his first rushing TD of the season.

At wideout, it was obviously great to see #13 back on the field, and boy did he make a difference. He was second on the team with 6 catches for 53 yards and almost came up with another spectacular catch before hitting his head hard on the ground. Renfrow provides a nice security blanket on 3rd down situations and helps keep the chains moving. Mike Williams had another great game outside of the fumble he committed while fighting for extra yards in the State red zone. He led the team with 12 catches for 146 yards and scored a touchdown for the 4th consecutive game. Ray-Ray and Leggett also had good games, and Artavis Scott’s 4th catch of the game was one of the biggest of his career.

Despite all of the positives from the offense, however, the name of the game is scoring. Not only did they miss out on several touchdowns because of turnovers, they gave one to NC State. You can overlook the rare fumble by Gallman because of the shot he took to the head, but the rest were inexcusable. I always say I’d rather be lucky than good, but it’s best to be lucky AND good. This game should not have come down to providence on a 33-yard NC State field goal to win, but the offense’s turnovers created that situation. One less turnover, and it doesn’t come to that. There’s something to be said for a team that’s strong enough and poised enough to overcome 4 turnovers (or 5 against Louisville), but that’s a double-edge sword. Get too confident in your ability to prevail in spite of turnovers, and it can and will eventually catch up with you. That’s exactly what almost happened on Saturday. Let’s hope this was a wake-up call for the offense and that we will see them protect the football from here on out! I guarantee you’re not going to beat a team like Alabama or Ohio State with 5 turnovers, including 4 in the red zone and a pick-six!

 

DEFENSE: B+

Players of the game: Carlos Watkins and Marcus Edmond

Ironically, the defensive performance was the opposite—the scoreboard made their performance look BETTER than it was. They allowed 397 total yards—over 100 more than their season average—but only gave up 10 points, 5 below their season average. NC State was 7 of 15 on 3rd down—almost double the percentage allowed by the Tigers on the season (26%) coming into the game. Overall, the Tigers did a relatively good job against the run, allowing 128 yards on 4.0 yards per carry, but 79 of those yards came in the second half, and—most importantly—the defense was completely unable to stop Matt Dayes and the State offense from marching down the field with 6 minutes left to set up a 33-yard game-winning field goal. That is disconcerting, to say the least, but as I stated, the Tigers should have had a huge lead in the 4th quarter. The defense played well enough to win comfortably, and it shouldn’t have come down to the defense needing a stop in the final 6 minutes. Furthermore, the defense generated 2 turnovers, which should be enough to win most games. They sacked the quarterback 4 times and had 7 tackles-for-loss. I would have liked to see more than the 6 quarterback hurries they had and few more TFL’s, but it was a reasonably good performance.

What can you say about Marcus Edmond? The guy works his way into the starting lineup after spring practice and is injured at the very beginning of August camp. Undeterred, he forges on to get healthy and work his way into the rotation and comes up with two game-saving plays in back-to-back home games! I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like that.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Player of the game: Christian Wilkins

Christian Wilkins continues to live up to the moniker “Slash” and demonstrate his unique athleticism and versatility. Last year, he catches a long pass from Teasdall on a fake punt against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and already this season we have seen him catch a touchdown pass and block for another one. On Saturday, he added to his resume by taking a short snap on another fake punt to run for a first down, and he also blocked a field goal! It’s only a matter of time, it would seem, until we see him throw a pass at some point.

As far as conventional special teams go, they were solid once again outside of the muffed punt by Ray-Ray. Fortunately, he was able to recover his fumble, but that is the fourth fumbled punt by my count since the GT game, and it is a cause for concern. He has a bad habit of misjudging the distance and catching the ball while back-peddling. He needs to learn that it is better to catch the ball moving forward than backwards. Let’s hope we have seen the last of the drops by Ray-Ray! We can’t afford one down in Tallahassee next week.

Huegel was 1-1 on field goals and is now 8 of 10 on the season. One of the two misses was a blocked kick. Huegel also continues to do a good job on kickoffs. He had 3 touchbacks on his 4 kickoffs and was 3-3 on PAT’s.

Teasdall averaged 26 yards on his 2 punts, but they were both sky punt situations, and he did not allow a return. He landed one inside the 20.

The Tigers need to do a better job in the return game. That has not been an asset for them in the past few games.

 

The old axiom is survive and advance, and just about every National Champion throughout history has had a close call or two just like this one. I’m sure we’re all hoping this is the last one for the Tigers and that they will put the drops and turnovers behind them in the second half of the season. One thing is for sure: it’s better to have gotten them out of their system at home against NC State than in Tallahassee. In a lot of ways this game reminded me of the 2014 game at FSU when the Tigers should have won by 20 points or so, but they couldn’t get out of their own way and managed to find a way to lose in overtime. Conversely, they found a way to win this one in the friendly confines of Death Valley—where they have now won 20 consecutive games to lead the nation. The Tigers had 5 turnovers against Louisville, zero at BC and 5 against NC State, if you count the turnover on downs at the goal line. Let’s hope that trend continues and we see them hold onto the ball in Tallahassee! 7-0 and 8 to go…..

 

 

 

 

 


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