Grading The Tigers Versus Duke

Clemson picked up a much-needed win behind the arm of red shirt freshman Charlie Whitehurst Saturday in Durham, North Carolina. The Tigers improved to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

I predicted a 24-21 Clemson win, which now makes me 7-2 on the year picking either for, or against the Tigers. I nailed the margin of victory the Tigers would end up having, but I was off 20 total points in the actual scores.

Coming off one A and four F's last week in grading the game versus NC State, here is how the Tigers graded out against the Blue Devils.

Where is your head, boys?
Many, including myself, wondered exactly what the emotional status of the Tigers would be on Saturday. The job the coaching staff had all week in keeping Clemson focused and from not giving up on the season had to be tough.

Clemson came out ready to play. The Tigers took the ball straight down the field and Whitehurst hit Kevin Youngblood on a nice pass over the middle on 3rd down to put the Tigers up. Defensively, Clemson looked like it was ready to get a 3 and out on the ensuing Duke procession, but Chris Douglas rumbled 46 yards on 3rd and 4 that seemed to put Clemson squarely back on their heels.

Still, you never sensed the Tigers were just going through the motions, even in the second quarter, which Duke all but dominated. While probably not having the Tigers 100% ready to play Duke, it is hard to find too much fault in the mental preparation the Tiger coaches instilled in the players Saturday.

Rhymer's Grade…B-

Simplified=Success?
Throughout last week, the speculation was that the Tigers were going to simplify things a little in order to give the offense a better chance to succeed. I was skeptical that simplified was the correct wording the coaches were using. I read into the coaches' minds that they were going to stick with what was working during a game instead of trying to mix things up constantly.

We got a little of both Saturday. The running game was simplified…and almost non-existent. The Tigers did run for over 100 yards, but once again had trouble in short yardage situations.

But the passing game was much more of what we would expect from this spread offense. Maybe that was due to the fact that Whitehurst simply made the correct reads. Maybe the play calling was different with the tall Whithurst at quarterback. Whichever it was, the passing game was excellent Saturday. Whitehurst spread the ball all the field, hitting the short passes as well as the longer passes. In addition, just about every receiver that dressed caught a ball. It was just only one game…but boy was that a nice performance?

Rhymer's Grade…A

Don't Press
It is a good thing that the Clemson coaches and players did not panic Saturday. Because, I can assure you, when Clemson went down 24-10 with 11:11 remaining in the game, most of Clemson Nation was panicking.

Clemson, however, did keep their cool. The result was a barrage of 24 points in just over eleven minutes. Considering the circumstances of this Clemson team, added to the fact that Duke had not won a conference game in 3 years, it would have been easy (maybe even expected) if the Tigers collapsed under the weight of the pressure when down Saturday. But, not only did the Tigers not collapse, they thrived. Maybe that is what it will take to turn the corner on this football season. Maybe not. But, for one day in Durham, the Tigers played with all the poise and confidence of an 8-0 team…not a 4-4 team.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Throw A Curve Ball
There was a curve ball thrown Saturday afternoon in Durham, but it was not the type of curve I expected. Simply put, Clemson ran an offense that had been almost non-existent this year. At no point have we seen this number of passes thrown over the middle or to the middle of the field in the Tommy Bowden era.

We kept hearing about how Clemson wants to stretch the entire field, yet all we have seen in the past few weeks is 7-yard outs. Saturday, however, was a different story. The Tigers' offense was obviously committed to throwing the ball all over the field. With that change, the question just begs to be asked. Was it a change in philosophy by the offensive coaches or did Charlie Whitehurst just see things that Willie has not this year? I don't know the answer, but I sure like the quality of the output.

The biggest drawback to throwing the ball in the center of the field is the higher risk of turnovers. Fortunately, Whitehurst did not throw an interception, even though a couple of passes came close. If you can throw the ball to all parts of the field AND not turn the ball over…you have a recipe for a pretty good offense. We saw it in the first half against Florida State, and we saw it all game long in Durham. Hopefully, we will see it in Chapel Hill.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

How About A Long Field?
With only two exceptions, Clemson made Duke move on a long field. The fumble on the kickoff by Cliff Harrell and the fumble by Whitehurst in the 4th quarter were the only two times Duke had a short field. The fumble by Harrell was erased by an interception by Khaleed Vaughn. The fumble by Whitehurst was more costly, allowing Duke to tie the score late in the 4th quarter.

The much maligned Wynn Kopp averaged 37.2 yards per punt with good hang time, allowing the Clemson coverage team to give up only minimal return yards. And the Clemson offense, even in the first half, was getting enough first downs to establish an edge in the field position battle.

Give credit to Duke for having a very good offensive game plan as they amassed 468 yards of total offense. But, the Blue Devils were backed up most of the day, which minimized the amount of damage of those 468 yards.

Rhymer's Grade…B

Random Notes:
  • Great Call Of The Day: Brad Scott and Mike O'cain deserve a lot of credit for attacking when the Tigers had a 7-point lead and 3 minutes to go. Clemson had not established a good enough running game to simply run for first downs and run the clock out. Sure, the fumble by Whitehurst was disappointing, but to the Tiger coach's credit, they were going to win or lose the game doing what they do best…throwing the football.
  • Questionable Call Of The Day: Going for the 4th and 1 in the 3rd quarter. Granted, you should be able to get one freaking yard, but, Clemson has proved over the past 4 weeks that it is abysmal in short yardage plays. So, why even try it? And, if you do, why not run a pitch sweep or a safe pass? The chances of being successful on either of those two plays are
  • Whatever is going through Willie Simmons' head right now, I'll never know. But, all appearances are that he is handling the situation with class. Good thing too, because Clemson is going to need Willie Simmons at some point again THIS year.
  • Where can we go from here? One more win will assure the Tigers some postseason action. With only one more conference win, Clemson would most likely end up in the Tangerine Bowl or the Continental Tire Bowl. To move up into the Peach Bowl, Clemson would have to win their remaining two ACC games against North Carolina and Maryland. The good news is that NC State, Maryland, and Virginia all have tough ACC games remaining…many of them being against each other. State plays at Maryland, at UVA, and FSU. Maryland plays State, at Clemson, at UVA, and versus Wake Forest. Virginia plays State and Maryland in Charlottesville. Bottom line: The Gator is all but out, but the other bowl games with ACC tie ins are all still a very good possibility…including the Peach Bowl. The key, very simply, is can Clemson win the next two ACC games?

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