Surviving Wake…Heading Back Home

Not glamorous. Not pretty. Very scary. But a win. All of Clemson's problems were not solved in Winston Salem last Saturday. But the Tigers got a much-needed win and maybe a little defensive confidence by earning win number 5 of the season.

South Carolina may have it tough with their "Orange Crush" finish to the season each year. But this year the Tigers can sympathize. The Tigers are sure to be underdogs in their next three games versus Florida State, on the road at Maryland, and on the road at USC. Duke stands as the only team left that the Tigers will be favored against.

The bad news is that it will be tough for Clemson to win the rest of their games. The good news is that if they do, it will be a great finish to the year. You hate to put numbers on how many wins Clemson should get in those three games they are underdogs because you want to win them all. However, a split between FSU and Maryland would be considered a pretty good feat for this young team. Beating South Carolina is always a must, so I won't even pretend to insinuate that it would be acceptable to lose to the Gamecocks. There is still plenty to play for in this season, and all the fun starts next Saturday in Bowden Bowl III.

Looking back and grading my "5 Things To Watch" from last week.

#1-What's There To Play For?
I'm not sure we can get a true grading on this one yet because there are bigger fish to fry on down the schedule. The defense certainly look inspired to play, and to their credit, played the best game of the season. There was not a ton of emotion on offense, but that could have been due to the puny crowd in Winston Salem. Bottom line is the Tigers got the win…which they sorely needed.

Rhymer's Grade…B

#2-Stay Healthy
John Leake was lost for the game on the first defensive series. What makes it even tougher to swallow is that Leake was illegally blocked. Ben Hall and Airese Currie both left the game with injures, with Currie's appearing to be the more severe of the two. The Tigers have had plenty of injuries this year, and they most certainly did not need the ones they got on Saturday.

Rhymer's Grade…F

#3-Where Is The Improving D?
We wanted and needed improvement from the defense, and we got it. Bryant McNeil made a big play in the first quarter with a fumble recovery. Chad Carson and Charles Hafley also stepped up with big interceptions to seal the victory for the Tigers. The defense has to be credited with "winning" the game this week instead of the offense. But, it was Wake Forest and bigger test lie ahead. Maybe this was the first step to becoming respectable defense.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

#4-Offensive Imagination
The offense was much better Saturday than against UNC the previous week, but I'm not sure I saw a much different offensive game plan this week. The Tigers amassed 388 yards on less than 70 plays, which is a pretty good ratio per play. New wrinkles will be needed next week versus Florida State, but this afternoon the Tigers were good enough without needing a tremendous amount of imagination.

Rhymer's Grade…C+

#5-Give It To Big Ben
Ben Hall emerged as a part of the offense again this week, catching three passes for 17 yards and one touchdown. His worth to this offense continues to grow as the weeks go by, and he is quickly proving to be every bit the type of player the recruiting experts thought he would be.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Florida State comes to town next week to face the Tigers. The ‘Noles seem to be back on track after losing to UNC and Miami earlier in the year. The Tigers have not beaten Florida State since the ‘Noles came into the league ten years ago. The games in Clemson have been very competitive, and the talent gap has been greater in the past than it is this year. The ‘Noles are still one of the most talented teams in the country, but they are very young. Something tells me that this is going to be a close game and I would not be shocked if the Tigers win.

Here are my "5 Things To Watch" for Bowden Bowl III in Death Valley next week.

#1-Home Field Advantage
The Tigers have not played their best football at home this year and they will need to change that this week. Florida State is still very young, and they got rattled in Chapel Hill earlier this year. With all due respect to the Tar Heel fans, Death Valley can be much more intimidating than Chapel Hill. The team needs to give the fans something to rally behind and the fans need to do their part and be vocal.

#2-Win The Turnover Battle
Clemson won the turnover battle for the first time this year versus Wake Forest. There is no doubt the Tigers must duplicate that feat this week. The offense needs to protect the ball, and the defense needs to capitalize on the fact that the Seminoles have been a little turnover prone.

#3-Be Aggressive
We'll see if Reggie Herring is giving us lip service on his new commitment to be aggressive on defense. He did it versus Wake, but that is a far different situation than doing it versus FSU. Still, it needs to be done. If the young defense is going down, it should go down while being aggressive. Put the cornerbacks in man coverage and bring the house at FSU quarterback Chris Rix. Maybe, just maybe, he will make some mistakes.

#4-Run With Authority
The running game has been non existent (except for Woody) the last two games. Travis Zachery must start finding holes to help take the pressure off Dantzler and the passing game. FSU is not going to give up running yards without a fight, but the Tigers are going to have to run it to win. If there is one area that is absolutely critical for Clemson to win the game, it has to be the running game from the tailback position.

#5-Trick And Treat
The offense and special teams will need to bring a few tricks out of the bag so the Tigers can get a cheap score or two. The trickery on offense will also keep the speedy FSU defense on guard, thus neutralizing their over aggressiveness. On the flip side, you always must be on guard with the elder Bowden and the FSU trick book. Clemson needs to do all the tricking AND treating Saturday.

Scott can be reached at

Scott is the host of "The College Football Weekend Preview" on Thursday nights from 8-10 p.m. immediately falling Tiger Calls on WCCP 104.9 FM. The show can also be heard via the Internet at Top Stories