The warnings that things were not going well on the offensive line after the Virginia and Wake Forest games became reality Thursday night. As I have stated before, the Clemson coaches did a nice job masking the problems the Tigers have up front in the first 4 or 5 games. But the jig is now up, and teams are quickly learning they can control the line of scrimmage against the Clemson offense.
Once again the Clemson quarterbacks did not have time to allow the receivers to run their routes before throwing the ball. And, once again, no flow could be created on the offensive side of the ball. Tommy Bowden's inability to sign big time offensive lineman the past 3 years in Clemson has now manifested itself in a problem that is very hard to overcome.
T.A. McLendon versus Rambert/Kelly
240 yards versus 66 yards just about sums up this category. Even if you take into account that State had 50 rushes to Clemson's 27, the differential in yards per rush is staggering. NC State averaging 4.8 yards per carry to Clemson's 2.4 was probably the most glaring sign that Clemson got roughed up last Thursday night.
The fact that N.C. State was able to run the ball with success is certainly not a shocking revelation. The Wolfpack are one of the leading teams in the conference on the ground, and Clemson has showed a lack stopping teams like that on a consistent basis.
When you break it all down, the fact that the Tigers ran the ball so poorly spelled the biggest doom against State, and red flags are remain all over the place for the rest of the season. Offensive line problems are a major contributor, but the Clemson backs of Yusef Kelly and Bernard Rambert are failing to break runs for any substantial distance.
Keep State's Receivers In Front
Maybe it was the fact that the game was a blowout, but Philip Rivers did not exactly light the Tiger defense up Thursday night. Rivers only threw for 129 yards, and the Tiger secondary never let the Wolfpack receivers get behind them for huge gains.
The category, in all essence, was ruled useless because of the flow of the game. Had Rivers needed to throw for 300 yards, I get the feeling that he could have. But I don't hand out grades for what could have been done, only what was done.
Grab A Lead...Tighten The Noose
In hindsight, this one can only make you laugh. Not only did Clemson never sniff the lead, the Tigers were out of the game officially by the middle of the 3rd quarter. It is kind of tough to tighten the noose on the Wolfpack's expectations when you never even get a noose in your hands.
Give N.C. State a ton of credit for never allowing the Tigers back in the game. A good team is a team that can grab a lead on the road. A really good team is a team that can put the game away and never let the opponent have any hope of coming back. That is exactly what N.C. State did Thursday night.
We will never know how State would have reacted to trailing in the game versus Clemson, but keep an eye on the Wolfpack as their season progresses when they do get behind an opponent. Whether they handle it well or not will determine if they are going to be able to put together a special season.
The D-Ham Special, Please
Derrick Hamilton disappeared (again) into a cocoon of himself Thursday night. His 3 catches for 16 yards was about as impressive as N.C. State's red stockings.
What is more disappointing is that the Clemson coaches had no creative ways to get Hamilton the ball once it became apparent the main game plan on offense was not working. There should be a stockpile of plays geared towards your best athletes if and when the offense shuts down. That was not done Thursday night, and therefore, the Tigers were blown out of the stadium.
Later in the week, I will give my 5 keys to the game versus Duke. In the meantime, one thing the Clemson family needs to think about in the time leading up to the Duke game is that a season is not made or broken until the season is over.
Is this season on the brink of disaster? Yes.
Does that mean that it will implode? No.
Winning the next 4 games would go a long way in healing the wounds that have been inflicted on the program. The coaching staff has a huge responsibility to keep the players focused on the task at hand, as opposed to just giving up on the rest of the season. The bottomline here is if the players quit, the fault lies directly with the coaching staff.
Will Clemson win the remaining 4 games? Probably not. But until the year is over, you can't make a judgment on the entire season. Only can you truly evaluate the progress of the program and/or the coaches. Stay tuned.
Grading The Mess
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