Grading The Tigers Win

Clemson bulled its way over North Carolina 42-12 Saturday with a balanced attack on offense and a stellar performance on defense. It goes without saying that the Tigers played the most complete game of the year, even if it was against worst team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

With the win, I moved to 8-2 on the year by picking the Tigers to win 27-17. Here is how I graded the Tigers' performance.

Beware The Cornered Ram
The Tar Heels came into the game with a fractured ego and the Tigers showed no sympathy. The game actually started out well for North Carolina they jumped out to an early 9-0 lead.

Even with early game success, the Tar Heel crowd showed little enthusiasm. In fact, I almost got the impression that they had seen this before and knew their good fortune early was not going to last.

The Tar heels players seemed to be ghost walking for most of the game. It goes without saying that they did not play as if they were backed into a corner; they played like they had quit on their coach weeks ago and were simply going through the motions.

Give Clemson credit for going for the throat. The Tigers were not happy taking a 14-9 lead into halftime, so they attacked with a little over a minute to go and scored late in the 2nd quarter when Charlie Whitehurst hit J.J. McKelvey on a 58-yard touchdown pass. In the 2nd half, the Tigers played like they wanted to punish the Tar Heels, not simply beat them. That's the first time I can remember seeing that so called "killer instinct" that so many fans have been talking about this year.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Rushing…We'll Settle For Half
For a team that has had a hard time getting the ground game going this season, Clemson pulled a double whammy Saturday by producing two 100 yard rushers. Bernard Rambert (19 carries for 106 yards) and Tye Hill (14 carries for 105 yards) paced the Tigers in their most successful running day of the year.

Sure, North Carolina is the worst ACC team in terms of rushing defense, but the Tigers came into this one as one of the worst ACC teams in rushing as well. For Clemson to dominate the line of scrimmage with such ease Saturday at least gives the O-line confidence heading into the Maryland game next Saturday.

To expect, or even believe, the Tigers can duplicate that kind of day on the ground against either the Terps or South Carolina is wishful thinking at best, but for one Saturday this season, the Tigers actually had a balanced attack.

That credit not only goes to the backs…but more importantly to the much-maligned offensive line.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Charlie Ballgame
I guess it is now safe to say that Charlie Whitehurst is a pretty darn good quarterback. Whitehurst once again made great decisions and precise throws all day long. In many ways, his day was better than last week even though he only had to put the ball in the air 20 times.

Whitehurst finished the day 12-of-20 for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns. Of the 8 passes that were incomplete, at least 3 of them were catchable balls. Just as important, none of his passes really came close to being intercepted.

The biggest attribute of Whitehurst continues to be his poise in the pocket. Several times Whitehust patiently waited for his receivers to get open before he threw the ball. The long pass to Airese Currie for the Tigers' first score was a beautiful ball that landed in Currie's arms in stride.

If Whitehurst continues to show the poise and talent that he has the last two weeks, Clemson will have a legitimate shot at knocking off Maryland Saturday.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Don't Be Aiken Saturday
Sam Aiken had a modest day with 8 catches for 58 yards. Aiken's yards per catch were held to a measly 7 yards, which meant he was not able to get behind Justin Miller and Brian Mance.

If I were a Tar Heel fan, I would question why the offensive coaches did not call any long fade patterns against the Tigers. Granted, Clemson has not given up many deep passes this year, but to not even take a crack downfield is questionable.

When a team has only one or two great playmakers on offense, you will be successful if you can key on those individuals. North Carolina probably would not have won the game had Aiken had a big day, but the Tar Heels' offense was stuck in the mud without him making plays. In my eyes, you have to give credit to defensive coordinator John Lovett and the Clemson secondary.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Footsie
Wynn Kopp averaged a modest 35.5 yards a punt on Saturday. And, unfortunately, his bad habit of booming kicks into the end zone resurfaced Saturday as well.

On the bright side, Kopp only had to punt the ball 2 times all day. The Clemson offense was so productive that Kopp's role in the game was nil. His role, however, will expand this week against the Maryland Terrapins.

Rhymer's Grade…C

Random Notes:
  • The Tar Heel crowd was lethargic, to say the least. But a very good size Clemson crowd was on hand on a beautiful day in Chapel Hill.
  • For all the hoopla surrounding the facilities in Chapel Hill, I would be embarrassed if Clemson had a scoreboard and PA system similar to what the Tar Heels have. It's time to bring that stadium up to date.
  • Clemson's remaining two games carry with them enough significance to completely change the perception of the season. 2-0 by winning the last 4 games of the regular season would leave a sweet taste in our mouths. 0-2 would be devastating to the program…especially considering how poorly South Carolina is playing right now.
  • Maryland is beatable, no question about it. But, in my humble opinion, the Terps are the best team in the ACC this year. Despite this, they won't win the ACC Championship. I'm sure the Ralph Friedgen and company would like a chance to play FSU again towards the later part of the season, but that won't happen.
  • After the egg that was laid the last time Clemson was in Death Valley, how important is it to play well this Saturday? Very important. Moral victories won't work this late in the season. But getting blown out again on national television would be demoralizing.
  • I know my Maryland preview is not due for another couple of days, but my early feeling about the game with Maryland is very positive. Clemson is a different team right now than the team that lost to N.C. State. A win over Maryland would not only give the Tigers a 3-game winning streak, it also could go a long way in wrapping up a Peach Bowl bid.

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