Grading the N.C. State Win

Curtis Baham

Clemson continued the trend of beating teams that they lost to the year before when the Tigers squeaked by N.C. State Saturday afternoon, 26-20. The win moves Clemson to 4-4 on the season and 3-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and sets up a showdown with Miami next week in Coral Gables.

The win also keeps Clemson's bowl hopes alive and kicking, something that almost seemed impossible three weeks ago.

Here is how I graded the Tigers on my 5 keys to the game.

1. T.A.-Hangnail or Hero?
As if following the script that Hollywood would undoubtedly use to portray him, T.A. McClendon continued his habitual pattern of missing action in the middle of a game.

McLendon rushed for 31 yards on 12 carries early in the game before spending the majority of the 2nd half on the sideline watching the action. But even when T.A. was in game, he was ineffective at best. McLendon averaged only 2.6 yards per carry, and State had already moved the better pass catching backs into the game before he officially was hurt.

So the story continues for the back with all the potential in the world but with a heart the size of a black eyed pea. Give Clemson's defense credit as they were not going to allow McClendon to be the hero this year.

Rhymer's Grade…A

2. Return of the Red Herring
Reggie Herring brought his aggressive style of defense to Clemson on Saturday with mixed results. Overall, Clemson was only able to amass 267 yards of offense on Saturday…not exactly what I would call a "field day."

But inside of that total tells a story of how Clemson was able to win the game. The Tigers completed 47% of their 3rd down conversions, which is a much higher percentage than Clemson has been getting and much higher percentage than NCSU had been giving up.

The Tiger offense also was able to move the football on most of their processions which allowed them to pin State back on most of their drives and allow the defense to catch a breather. The Tigers also protected Charlie Whitehurst better than they have been, giving up only two sacks and generally allowing Whitehurst decent time to throw the ball.

And finally, the Wolfpack were not able to force any turnovers in the game. The only turnover the Tigers had was on their first procession when Whitehurst lost the handle on the snap…something the Wolfpack had no part in creating.

All in all, Herring's defense was solid but certainly not remarkable. And certainly not worthy of the #2 ranking.

Rhymer's Grade…B

3. Special Blunders
N.C. State came into the game as one of the leagues most penalized teams, and Clemson fans saw up close why on Saturday. State was flagged 10 times for 62 yards Saturday afternoon, which taken by itself is bad enough. Compounding the enormity of those penalties is that 7 points were taken off the board because of illegal formation penalties suffered by the Wolfpack. In fact, the illegal formation penalties actually occurred on the same drive and were called on plays that State had scored a touchdown. Obviously, those 7 points would have made all the difference in the world for the Wolfpack.

The Wolfpack fared better in the kicking game, not allowing the Tigers to get any big plays in the return game.

But the Wolfpack also self destructed with 6 turnovers that ultimately proved to be fatal for the Amato's club. One interception resulted in a direct touchdown for Clemson and two interceptions resulted in field goals by the Tigers. One interception in the end zone took a potential field goal off the board for the Wolfpack. And the last interception kept the Wolfpack from scoring a touchdown and winning the game.

As ugly as Clemson has been in the turnover department, on this day it was the Wolfpack that killed any chance of winning by turning over the ball. And some of that credit has to fall on the Clemson defense.

Rhymer's Grade…A

4. Bang on the Banged Up
Defensive coordinator John Lovett spliced together an excellent game plan that forced State quarterback Jay Davis to make quick decisions on his passing routes while taking away State's ability to consistently rush the ball.

State's offensive line was all banged up, and Clemson took advantage by allowing the linebackers to bang inside and put pressure on Davis. To State's credit, the offensive line only gave up two sacks. But State was also able to only get 126 yards on the ground, far below what they had been doing with McClendon and company earlier in the season.

The play of Clemson's defensive line was also put in clear focus as Eric Coleman and Charles Bennett both had interceptions at the most critical times in the game.

All in all the Tigers forced the Wolfpack to throw the ball quickly all the while taking away the running game. The lack of depth up front for State had something to do with it for sure, but give Clemson credit for banging on the hurt Wolfpack offensive line good enough to keep the Wolfpack off balance most of the night.

5. Stay in Front of Chains
Improvement happened in this category as Clemson faced less 3rd and longs than they did the week before. That improvement started on first downs, as Clemson was able to consistently make positive yardage that placed the Tigers in manageable 2nd and 3rd down situations.

The penalties that had dogged Clemson the week before were also gone as the Tigers were only flagged three times on offense. As mentioned earlier in the article, this improvement allowed Clemson to convert third downs at a much higher percentage than the Tigers had bee converting.

As the season progresses, the ability of the Clemson offense to make positive yards on first down will play a vital role in the Tiger's success. And Saturday it certainly played a key in the Clemson win.

Rhymer's Grade…B

Looking Ahead
Clemson now heads to the Orange Bowl to face a Miami team licking their wounds from a loss in Chapel Hill Saturday night. It is the return of Clemson to its most hallowed ground as the Tigers will return to the Orange Bowl for the first time since winning the National Championship on January 1st 1982 in that very stadium.

So, in that respect, it will be an emotional moment for Clemson fans like myself who remember fondly that evening where the Tigers became the best team in college football for that year. And hopefully that magic will rub off on a Clemson team this year that could make some serious noise in the conference standings if they can find a way to pull the upset.

Regardless, the win Saturday by the Tigers kept the hopes alive for a bowl berth, and it certainly leaves plenty to play for down the stretch of this season.

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