Grading The Tigers

Clemson lost a heartbreaker to N.C. State on Thursday night 17-15 before a raucous crowd at Carter Finely Stadium and a nationally televised audience on ESPN.

I predicted a 31-27 Clemson win, which was terribly off the actual 17-15 N.C. State win. In all honesty, as game time approached I felt the score would be a little lower than I had published on Monday…maybe somewhere in the 24-21 area. That, of course, would have still been wrong. My prognostication record remains even with Clemson's overall record at 4-3.

Here is how I grade the Tigers and their performance Thursday night.

McLendon Madness
T.A. McLendon played about as well as I and the N.C. State faithful thought he would. The thought was he would have a few moments of brilliance wrapped around 3 ½ quarters of limping around hurt.

And, that is exactly what he did. McLendon rushed for only 60 yards on 19 carries (3.1 yard average). McLendon did have 5 catches for 22 yards and a touchdown, but his effectiveness in the game was certainly limited. This is the 3rd straight game in a row that the Clemson defense has, in essence, removed the running capabilities of some pretty good back. Bruce Perry, Wali Lundy, and T.A. McLendon collectively were unimpressive against a Clemson defensive front that continues to control the line of scrimmage.

The only fault would be the run McLendon had late in the game where be bullied threw a couple of tackles to pick up a first down that sealed the game. Otherwise, McLendon was an afterthought in this game.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Miller And Friends
Statistically, Philip Rivers was held in check about as well as he has all season Thursday night by the Clemson secondary. Rivers threw for only 213 yards Thursday night, and he never seemed to have that impressive mastery of the NCSU offense like we have seen him have on many occasions in his career.

Overall, the Clemson secondary played well and tackled well. But, several glaring miscues were costly in the grand scheme of the game. First, the 37-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Richard Washington in the 3rd quarter was a breakdown in coverage that allowed Washington to get behind the Clemson secondary.

Later in the 3rd quarter, Rivers completed a pass to Jerricho Cotchery on a 3rd and forever that Justin Miller never turned around to see. The first down allowed State to kick what turned out to be the decisive field goal as the 4th quarter started. And late in the 4th quarter Eric Sampson was called for pass interference on a 3rd down where he never turned around to defend the ball. The penalty gave State a first down and extended a drive that eventually would run out the clock.

Again, it is hard to bemoan the play of the secondary for most of the game against arguably the leagues best quarterback. But, in close ACC games on the road you have to make plays to win. And, unfortunately, those several miscues in the secondary cost Clemson dearly Thursday night.

Rhymer's Grade…C+

Yusef…The Man And The Myth
Yusef Kelly looked much like he did the week before against Virginia in the 1st quarter Thursday night by gaining 33 yards on 6 carries (5.5 yard average). The, Kelly exits stage left with an injured leg and is never heard from again Thursday night.

But, Clemson continued to run the ball successfully against the Wolfpack even without Kelly. Duane Coleman (11 carries for 51 yards) and Chad Jasmin (6 carries for 37 yards) helped pace the Tigers to 127 yards rushing on the day.

For the 2nd straight week, the running game appears to be improving to the point where it is not embarrassing. This is good news as the Tigers head down the stretch in the ACC. If Clemson can continue to rush for 100+ yards a game, the Tigers will have a chance to win the games remaining on the schedule.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Be Special On Special Teams
In contrast to last year in Death Valley, this game was relatively quiet on special teams. Aaron Hunt possibly shook out of his early year slump by connecting on all three of his field goal attempts (28, 31, 24 yards). Jad Dean looked good kicking several balls into the end zone and several others right to the goal line. Clemson averaged 37 yards a punt, nothing spectacular but none of the three kicks were very close to being blocked.

The return game for both teams was also very quiet with neither team shifting the field on a return at any time during the game.

In many ways, it was one of the most solid games by both teams on special teams that I have witnessed in several years. You rarely see such a quiet evening on special teams in college football anymore, but that is exactly what we got Thursday. Nothing special…just solid.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Bottle That Emotion
Clemson continues to make stupid mistakes by allowing their emotions get the best of them during the games. The personal foul penalties are just unacceptable, especially in a game that was so closely contested. Both teams were penalized 8 times Thursday, but Clemson amassed almost 25 more yards on those penalties because of the severity of the personal fouls.

Nobody wants the emotion to lack on the field, but there is a big difference between good emotion and stupid emotion and the Tigers in 2003 have recently not been able to distinguish between the two.

The coaching staff needs to find an answer to this problem or this bug will continue to bite Clemson and may again cost the Tigers a chance to win a close game.

Rhymer's Grade…D

Random Thoughts:
· With 3 ACC games remaining on the schedule where the Tigers will be favored (UNC, Wake, and Duke) and one game where the Tigers will be underdogs (FSU) Clemson appears headed for a 5-3 conference record in 2003. That would be an improvement over 2001 and 2002, and would most likely land the Tigers in the Peach Bowl. Of course, that is a lot of assuming 7 games into the season.

· 2 losses will not win the ACC title this year, in my opinion. So, Clemson fans should direct their energy in pulling for FSU and Maryland to beat everybody they play…thus helping Clemson secure the 3rd spot in the ACC. Any and all of the losses Maryland and FSU suffer muddy up the middle of the ACC pack.

· Some of Clemson's most talented players continue to underachieve. That list includes Justin Miller, Derrick Hamilton, and Eric Sampson. If these guys can step up their play to their talent level, things will get much better for Clemson.

· The absence of Airese Currie made a pretty dramatic difference in the game considering the Tigers could not stretch the field Thursday night. It will be good to see the Tiger's best receiver back on the field when he returns. Top Stories