Grading the Tigers Crucial Win

The Clemson Tigers escaped Death Valley Saturday afternoon with a 31-23 win over a well coached and scrappy Wake Forest team. This week it was the Deacons who outgained the Tigers in total yardage, and it was also the Deacons that self-destructed with five 2nd half turnovers.

I pegged the Tigers to be 28-13 winners, which put me 13 total points off the score. I bounced back after my first loss last weekend in the Virginia game to move my record to 6-1 on the year.

Here is how the Tigers graded out in my 5 keys to the game, as well as some additional commentary about fan support, my good and bad play call of the day, and my "where are you award."

Senior Leadership
What else is there to say other than leadership from the players was crucial to Clemson's win Saturday. Not only did the Tigers come in reeling after two straight losses, but they also fell behind in the first half to the tune of 16-7. The tents could have folded (ala UNC game last year) and the Tigers could have sulked their way through another disappointing homecoming loss.

It didn't happen. The bulk of the credit has to go out to the senior leadership on this team...especially on the defensive side of the ball. While allowing Wake Forest to chew up yards as the offense went three and out in the first half, the winded Tiger defense never got down on themselves or the offense.

Instead, they took it upon themselves to make plays…5 of them being turnovers in the 2nd half that all but sealed the deal for the Tigers win. Looking back, it is fairly obivious that was a game that could have easily been lost, but you have to love the fact that the team maintained a "refusing to lose" attitude when their backs were clearly against the wall.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Once Again, Turnovers
I guess the old adage that what goes around comes around is really true. After literally handing over wins to Georgia and Florida State, and thwarting any flicker of hope in coming back at Virginia with costly turnovers, the Tigers were handed a win by a sloppy Wake Forest team. What makes this even more astounding is that Wake Forest came into the game with only 5 turnovers on the year and ranked 2nd in the nation in turnover margin.

But that all imploded on the Deacons Saturday afternoon. As you always must do, give the Clemson defense credit for causing the turnovers. The interceptions by Justin Miller, Brian Mance, and Altroy Brodrick were all outstanding individual plays by the Tigers…especially the acrobatic catch by Mance.

And the final fumble by Chris Barclay as he sped toward the end zone was a heads up play by Mance, who knew he could not prevent Barclay from scoring a touchdown.

You wouldn't however, expect the Deacons to make as many devastating mistakes as they did Saturday. Nobody felt sorry for Clemson when they self inflicted their wounds against Georgia and Florida State, and nobody is going to feel sorry for Wake Forest Saturday. Especially those in the Clemson camp.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Attack On Offense
Despite a minor meltdown in execution for most of the 1st and 2nd quarters, and despite the frustration emanating from the stands, the Tigers did attack the Deacon defense with much more intensity than last week against Virginia.

Clemson threw the ball down field with purpose Saturday, and if you watched closely, Willie was going through his progressions before having to dump the ball off to a running back in flats.

The Clemson coaches also got the ball in the playmakers' hands, giving Derrick Hamilton 6 touches, Kevin Youngblood 6 touches, and J.J. Mckelvey 5 touches. Throw in the pod formation on a critical third down conversion in the 4th quarter, and the fake field goal by Jeff Scott, you get the impression the coaching staff learned from their mistakes last week.

The drought between the first drive of the first half and the last drive of the first half can be contributed more to lack of execution, not conservative play calling. The coaches got booed Saturday by frustrated fans, but they were taking criticism that they most certainly did not deserve.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Create Field Position
Once again the Tigers excelled in a key category Saturday that they failed miserably a week ago in. Obviously, the turnovers created excellent field position in the 2nd half when the Tigers so desperately needed points. The much-maligned Wynn Kopp also had a solid day with a couple of booming kicks that led to an average of right at 40 yards a kick. In addition, Kopp's punts had good hang time and the Clemson coverage unit held Wake Forest to only 33 yards on 7 punts.

Give the special teams and the defense a big pat on the back.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Sweet Home Death Valley
A great crowd got to witness a Clemson win, even if it meant sitting threw a frustrating 1 and ½ hour stretch of boring Clemson football in the first half. But, when asked to step up in the 3rd and 4th quarter, the Death Valley fans were ready and able to pull the Tigers through.

Wake Forest had trouble checking off their plays at the line of scrimmage in the 2nd half as Clemson crept back in the game. The Wake Forest offensive linemen were forced to walk toward MacPherson several times as he tried to bark out the play calls. In addition, Wake contributed to the noise by not having the ability to deliver hand signals from the quarterback to the players, an almost standard thing now in college football.

When the Deacons are playing in front of 15,000 folks at Groves Stadium in Winston Salem, I guess it's not really a consideration. However, you would expect that a strong coaching staff like Jim Grobe has assembled to have a little more sense when you come into an 80,000 seat venue.

The only reason the crowd does not get an A was because of the pitiful displays of booing in first half.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Random Notes And Observations
  • The booing and in the first half was embarrassing. Heck, I was as frustrated as anybody in the stadium. But the screams for Brad Scott's head and Charlie Whitehurst to come in a quarterback are getting old, quick. You will never hear me say you don't have a right to get frustrated and boo. I just think you look like a moron when you do it…especially Saturday when the play calling was excellent for the most part. Willie did have a couple of bad throws, but the good ones far outnumbered the bad ones and he is your quarterback barring injury.
  • Shame on the Wake Forest fans. They have a solid team that had an opportunity to move into the upper level of the ACC race with a win Saturday, and they brought what looked to be about 200 fans. Heck, most of those were probably family members of the players. Wake deserves better support.
  • Bad Call Of The Day: You have to wonder about the 3rd and 1 situation where a fly pattern over the middle to McKelvey was called. Before you start to say I got what I asked for from my last article, I don't think a deep pass on 3rd and 1 is the answer to our short yardage problems Clemson. What about a roll out with a tight end dragging?
  • Great Call Of The Day: You have to love the guts Bowden had in going for a fake field goal instead of kicking and going up 4 points. If you don't get the first down and Wake Forest drives for the game winning field goal, you are run out of town with tar and feathers. But all great calls take guts, and Bowden earned big kudos for going for it and making it…forcing Wake to score a touchdown and get a two-point conversion to tie.
  • Where Are You Award: This award goes to Bobby Williamson and Ben Hall, Clemson's two talented tight ends. With Wake Forest dropping so many into coverage, you would have thought the Tiger tight ends would have played a big role in the game plan. My guess is that they were kept in to block because the Tiger offensive line was not keeping the Deacons out the Tiger backfield. It was probably the worst game of the year for the offensive line, and the Tiger tight ends that had zero catches between them.
  • Kudos to the maintenance department at Clemson who spruced up the field Saturday with an orange border around the sidelines. It looked sharp from the stands, and I would imagine it looked good on television.

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