GRADES: Room for improvement

CLEMSON - Every week hands down grades analyzing all phases of the game.

The offensive line played better than what we saw last year, but was far from dominant against a defensive unit that, quite frankly, wasn't very good in 2008. Kyle Parker was on target in his first game but the first half drops by Xavier Dye and Jacoby Ford ended promising drives and have to be fixed before Thursday night at Georgia Tech. Outside of Ford's play, which was inconsistent, and Marquan Jones' touchdown reception, the receivers certainly left much to be desired and are a major work in progress. Backup QB Willy Korn was also disappointing with a fumble and interception.

With all that said, at the end of the game the Tigers still mustered 150+ yards passing and 202 rushing ... not great but not bad either, especially for a first game of the season. Third down conversions also must improve (just 4-of-14) but the dropped passes played a big role there. Remember also C.J. Spiller was held out of the second half with cramps and that certainly played a factor in what happened. Without question there is plenty of work to be done if Clemson is to win for the first time in Atlanta in six years Thursday.

Lastly, what about the tight ends?

The defense, for the most part, played as expected, giving up just seven points. Middle Tennessee did roll up 299 total yards by the end of the game, including 207 through the air on 44 passing attempts but really never mounted a serious threat to take control of the contest. DeAndre McDaniel and Brandon Maye set the tone early with first half interceptions, thanks mainly to pressure from Clemson's front four. The Blue Raiders also struggled to establish anything on the ground outside of the quarterback draw. The Tigers three sacks compared to 14) a year ago- so there was significant improvement there.

Overall, it was a solid start but far from what could be deemed as a "best performance."

Richard Jackson connected on three field goals (19, 22, 44) and missed from 46 and 48 yards in his first career start.
Richard Jackson missed his first and last field goal attempts of the night, but he made three in between. Both misses were from 45+ yards out but both were still makeable by his standards. Other than that, Clemson's special teams were outstanding - including a 96-yard kickoff return from C.J. Spiller to start the game, and a 43-yard punt return for a touchdown from Jacoby Ford in the second quarter. Spiller also had another long punt return later on forcing Middle Tennessee to rugby style punts and squib kickoffs which became a huge advantage for Clemson in field position. The Tigers did give up one long kickoff return, but DeAndre McDaniel hammered a Blue Raider return man as payback later on. Given Clemson's success in the return game, it will be intriguing to see how the Yellow Jackets' coaching staff respond Thursday night.

The team came out on fire with a long kickoff return for a touchdown by Spiller, an interception by DeAndre McDaniel on defense followed by another interception by Maye. While the offense bogged down at times, it came to life just enough to keep the Blue Raiders on their heels. The second half wasn't anything to write home about but by that time the game was out of reach. A good, but not great win isn't a bad way to start the season. An inspired effort with plenty of room for improvement is a good way to sum up this win.

The team came out inspired as a heavy favorite and the defensive game plan was solid. Those two facts standing alone make you feel good about the outcome. Sure, the offense is a work in progress, but we figured that coming in with a new quarterback and new receivers and an offensive line still trying to figure it all out. It's the first game of the season, and considering there no major blunders nor penalties, so far so good for Dabo and company. Next week will present a whole realm of different challenges and obviously tell us much more about the direction of Clemson football this year. Top Stories