The first half Clemson had no rhythm and it showed in just about offensive play through the first 20 minutes of the game. Tech defensive end Dwayne Morgan (No. 91) was feasting on Cory Lambert and Landon Walker right tackle, making it virtually impossible for Kyle Parker to find enough time to throw downfield. The Tigers also failed to establish anything on the ground. However finally, the game started to change when Parker gunned a 63-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Spiller down the far sideline with just over 10 minutes left in the second quarter. Then, with the Tigers trailing by 17 at halftime, the Clemson coaching then staff made what turned out to be an outstanding adjustment, moving left tackle Chris Hairston to the right side to handle Morgan (which he did beautifully). That led to a second half which looked anything like we've seen from Clemson's offense in the last 18 months.
Parker connected on a 77-yard touchdown to Ford as well as a nine-yard scoring strike to Dwayne Allen to bring the game back within reach. He later directed two more scoring drives resulting in field goals and almost delivered an incredible come-from-behind win, save for a questionable holding call against Thomas Austin late in the fourth quarter.
There were certainly bumps along the way, especially before Hairston switched to right tackle, but Clemson's offense came to life in a big way during the second half Thursday night. Again, far from perfect and a dismal first 20 minutes prevents the "B" grade, but a strong second half should hopefully be a glimpse of things to come the rest of the season. What else can you say about Kyle Parker? He's quickly growing up and may be one of the best quarterbacks in the league by the end of the season. Last but not least- 27 points should be enough to win against the Jackets so the offense did its part, even if it took almost two quarters to get things going.
The first touchdown of the game was inexcusable as Anthony Allen seemingly went untouched for the score from 82 yards out on a blown assignment. However after that, the Clemson defense didn't give up a single touchdown the rest of the game. That's right, Tech would add a touchdown on a punt return and a fake field goal - as well as three field goals later on and that's pretty much it. Josh Nesbitt completed just 4-of-15 passes with two interceptions (both by DeAndre McDaniel who also finished second on the team in total tackles with eight), so the secondary did its job for the most part. Overall it was far from the dominating performance hoped for by the staff against Tech's triple-option attack, but when you only give up three field goals for the final three quarters- usually that's good enough to win. Unfortunately Clemson's special teams blunders proved too much to overcome.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
The only reason to consider a passing grade would be due to Richard Jackson, who made two field goals, including a 52-yard bomb to give the Tigers their only lead of the game with just over 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Outside of that- let the gloom and doom begin. Tech scored on a botched pooch punt early in the first quarter, and also added a brilliantly executed fake field goal moments later, catching Clemson's field goal block team asleep as kicker Scott Blair threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. Somehow Clemson managed to score 27 unanswered points after the fact, but think about what the outcome of the game would have been had those two special teams touchdowns not counted? Ouch.
The grade at halftime would have been an F, especially in an unbelievable first quarter that saw everything that could possibly go wrong - go wrong, but the second half was tremendous. A year ago this team would have folded the tent and lost by 40. This season, it's an entirely different ball game and it showed throughout the second half. The adjustment to account for Morgan using Chris Hairston was brilliant, and Kevin Steele coached up his guys enough on defense to force a series of three-and-outs as Clemson mounted its comeback in the second and third quarters. This staff makes adjustments and knows what its doing, the problem is the first quarter featured so many big plays in unexpected situations- it proved to be too much to overcome. There's plenty of work to be done, but you saw flashes of what this team is capable of Thursday night, even in a loss.
The team is buying into what the coaching staff is preaching, especially when it comes to effort and not giving up, and that has to be considered great news. The first half gets an F, while the second half would be more like a B-plus. When you add it all up - the end result is somewhere in the middle with a C. There's plenty to learn from after a game like this- now let's see if happens the next couple of weeks against Boston College, TCU and Maryland.
GRADES: Cold start dooms Tigers
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