Grading the Tigers

Clemson got a much-needed 36-28 win over North Carolina Saturday afternoon in front a solid crowd of 75,000+ fans in Death Valley. The victory moved Clemson to 5-3 overall on the season and 3-2 in the ACC.

I predicted a 27-17 Clemson win, which was good enough to at least move me to 5-3 on the year in my picks. Here is how I graded the Tiger win along with a breakdown of the ACC race from this point forward.

Where's Your Head?
Despite devastating losses in the previous week, both teams played emotionally sound football Saturday afternoon. You have to tip your cap to John Bunting and the North Carolina players for coming out ready to play and persevering through a bad start to the game to hang on until the last minute of play.

Clemson probably was not as fired up as they were against Georgia or Virginia, but Tommy Bowden and this staff had the team ready to play mentally on what set up as a possible let down game.

It was evident that the team relaxed a little bit when they took the early lead 13-0, but I never got the sense that Clemson was just going through the motions on the field. As I said last week, North Carolina was good enough to beat Clemson if the Tigers did not come ready to play, and fortunately for us the Clemson players had their heads screwed on right Saturday afternoon.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Darian's Dance
Darian Durant was as good as advertised Saturday afternoon. Durant passed for 208 yards and ran for a gaudy 110 yards in an outstanding individual effort.

Durant seemed a step quicker than the Clemson defense at times, especially when he was flushed out of the pocket. The Tigers also rarely laid a hand on Durant in the pocket, something I thought they would do a better job of. The Tigers were unable to sack Durant Saturday, something that Clemson had been doing pretty good against everybody else this year. But, one of the Tar Heels strengths in their offensive line and it showed Saturday.

To Clemson's credit, however, the Tigers forced Durant into some mistakes. Durant accounted for all 4 North Carolina turnovers, including 3 interceptions and the big fumble at the end of the game. All 4 turnovers were caused by big plays from the Clemson defense, not simply dumb errors on Durant's part.

At the end of the day, I will rest a little easier knowing that we won't see Durant across the field again facing the Tigers.

Rhymer's Grade…C

What Discipline?
What a difference a week makes. Clemson was penalized only 3 times for 19 yards Saturday and it was critical in a game that came down to the last minute. This week, it was the Tar Heels that were the victim of some untimely penalties on the 3rd down sack of Charlie Whitehurst (face masking) and the pass interference on Tony Elliot. Both Tar Heel penalties extended Clemson drives that had stalled, a familiar mistake that had been happening to Clemson the past few games.

It was good to see the Tigers play a clean game in the penalty department, and it at least proves that Clemson can play within itself and not make dumb mistakes every week. That kind of discipline will be sorely needed this week in Winston Salem.

Rhymer's Grade…A

3rd Quarter Blues
For maybe the first time all year, Clemson was not outplayed in the 3rd quarter Saturday. The Tigers and Tar Heels both put 14 points on the board in the 3rd quarter, which is a step forward for the Tigers in that department. Clemson had an 80-yard drive and the 100-yard Derrick Hamilton kickoff return both in the 3rd quarter. North Carolina had an 80-yard drive and a 74-yard drive in the quarter.

So the Tigers came out in the 2nd half and played well instead of sleep walking in the 3rd quarter at least for one game. Let's see if they can take another step forward next week and outscore Wake in the 3rd quarter.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Success In The Unsuccessful
Clemson was able to do some things well Saturday that they had not been excelling at for the majority of the season. The Tigers intercepted three passes Saturday, a high for the year. Clemson also forced 2 fumbles and recovered one of them in the end zone to seal the win.

The Tigers also made a ton of big plays Saturday. Hamilton's 69-yard touchdown reception got the scoring going early for Clemson. Duane Coleman had a 50-yard run on the 2nd drive that set up the one-yard touchdown by Chad Jasmin. Clemson converted a 4th and 7 in the 3rd quarter on a pass to Hamilton that set up the Charlie Whitehurst touchdown. Of course, Hamilton had the 100-yard kickoff return with beautiful blocking to give the Tigers the lead at the end of the 3rd quarter. Clemson also had a 111-yard rushing day from Duane Coleman and an 87-yard rushing day by Chad Jasmin…almost giving the Tigers two 100-yard rushers in one game.

I keep preaching that college football today has so much parity that you have to make plays on 5 or 6 key points in the game to win. Clemson made the plays Saturday and North Carolina did not…and that is why the Tigers get the win.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Random Thoughts:
· A very nice crowd was on hand Saturday considering the early start and the 1-6 Tar Heels.

· What's the deal with Sergio Gilliam getting his first snaps of the year? This smells like a waste of the red shirt assuming Gilliam does not play 5-10 snaps in the remaining games. Even so, it is still a little questionable in my opinion.

· The Clemson offensive line continues to play well. The line gave up no sacks to Charlie Whitehurst Saturday and opened enough holes for a 229-yard rushing day for the Tigers. They young guns up front continue to get a lot of snaps and they continue to improve. The future is very bright in the trenches for Clemson. Top Stories