GRADES: Tigers take major step

CLEMSON - Dabo Swinney said after Saturday's win "championship teams find ways to win." It took most of four quarters, but the Tigers finally found their way ... and it just may be a path that leads to Tampa for the ACC Championship Game.

The Tigers struggled early on but rebounded in a big way late, scoring 19-fourth quarter points to turn a nail-biter into somewhat of a laugher in the 16-point win. Kyle Parker led the way, recovering from an early first-quarter pick-six and another turnover in the red zone to put four touchdowns and 242 passing yards on the board. And what else can you say about C.J. Spiller? The stats pretty much tell the story: 22 carries for 165 yards and a touchdown in addition to three receptions for 67 yards and another score. Xavier Dye led all receivers with three catches for 68 yards and a touchdown and is on the cusp as emerging as a badly needed No. 2 wide receiver. Andre Ellington also relieved Spiller in the fourth quarter and was electrifying with six carries for 54 yards and a touchdown.

Best of all, the Tigers wore down the Seminoles in the fourth quarter with a power running game, putting points on the board while eating precious minutes off the clock. When is the last time that's happened? Against Florida State? In the biggest game of the season? With the Atlantic Division on the line? Here's a hint - never.

After Florida State opened the first quarter with 17 points, (seven coming courtesy of a pick-six) Clemson's defense did what it needed to do slow down the Seminoles just enough to secure the win. FSU managed just one more touchdown through the final three quarters as Clemson picked off Christian Ponder four times. Rashard Hall had a huge interception (his fifth of the season) to help start Clemson's fourth-quarter scoring barrage before DeAndre McDaniel's eighth pick of the year slammed the door shut on any thought of an FSU comeback. It wasn't a dominating effort considering the Tigers gave up 392 yards, but Clemson's defense made the plays it had to in order to win the game and it only gave up 17 points in the process. Not too shabby.

Richard Jackson missed two field goals and two extra points Saturday night in Clemson's 40-24 win over Florida State. (AP)
There were seven kicks attempted Saturday but only two were made ... and we aren't talking about all field goals either. Richard Jackson missed two-of-four extra points, in addition to two field goals and Spencer Benton missed another extra point as well. Fortunately the Tigers were able to overcome those massive miscues, but Dabo Swinney has to be wondering who can get the ball through the uprights headed to Raleigh next weekend. Talk about embarrassing. It was the worst special teams performance of the season by far.

It wasn't a game built around flawless execution and dominating play, but a win is a win and that's all that matters. Kevin Steele made enough adjustments during halftime to slow down Florida State and the offensive play calling was solid against a porous FSU defense all night long. In addition, the Tigers showed tremendous poise, heart and toughness in scoring 19 fourth-quarter points. If Clemson was in the driver's seat in the Atlantic Division coming into the game, Saturday night it filled up the gas tank, locked the doors and drove halfway to Tampa. If you aren't "All In" yet, go back to Williams-Brice with the rest of your South Carolina buddies.

The dismal performance on special teams prevents the "A" grade, and it sure was sloppy at times, but considering this was being billed as the biggest conference game since Clemson's 2007 matchup with Boston College, it's hard not to feel good after this one. The two major things that need correcting in the final three games- finding consistency in the kicking game and getting Kyle Parker to avoid the costly turnovers- especially in the red zone. Perhaps it's a good thing that Dabo Swinney will find so many mistakes that need correcting after watching film of this one, because that alone should prevent this team from feeling it has "arrived" as it travels to N.C. State next weekend. Top Stories