GRADES: New era beginning

GRADES: New era beginning

RALEIGH, N.C. - 10 games into Dabo Swinney's first full season as Clemson's head coach, it's becoming crystal clear a new era is beginning for Clemson football.

OFFENSE: A
Once again the Tigers were balanced in a big win, rushing for 254 yards while throwing for 200. C.J. Spiller rushed, passed and caught a touchdown to become the first player in Clemson history to do that in one game, while also strengthening his Heisman Trophy campaign for the second consecutive week. Kyle Parker did what he needed to do, throwing for two touchdowns while also protecting the ball after his team jumped out to an early 17-0 lead. The offensive line was solid and the play calling continues to be outstanding as the Tigers scored more than 38 points for the fifth consecutive game. Senior tight end Michael Palmer continues to be one of the biggest stories on offense this season, catching another touchdown pass while also doing another solid job blocking. Jamie Harper even got into the mix, scoring on the longest run of the season to finish the scoring. But ultimately, the best part about this unit is that it seems to improve every single week, gaining more and more confidence along the way.

DEFENSE: B-
It took nearly 20 minutes before Russell Wilson completed a pass against Clemson's ultra-stingy pass defense, but by the end of the afternoon State did manage to claw its way to 377 total yards. Overall Wilson completed just 12-of-32 passes for 183 yards and was seemingly out of sync most of the day. The Tigers did give up a few big plays, including two touchdown passes to Jarvis Williams and there were several missed tackles near the line of scrimmage against the run, but overall it was a solid performance. The garbage touchdown with three seconds left will likely keep defensive coordinator Kevin Steele up at night, but should equal better focus and concentration for his players the next two weeks. By the way, anyone else surprised DeAndre McDaniel didn't get his ninth interception of the season?


Once again the Tigers were faced with another must-win in regards to the conference race, and once again the team responded with a convincing win ... and this time it came on the road. (Roy Philpott)

SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Once again placekicking woes moved to the forefront of the special teams discussion this week. The good news was Spencer Benton made his only field goal attempt of the game- a chip shot in the first quarter, but the bad news was he later missed two extra points before being replaced Richard Jackson. Jackson will surely get the start next week and has to straighten himself out mentally if the Tigers are going to win the division and ultimately the ACC. Teams are continuing to kick away from C.J. Spiller, which is setting up the Tigers with good field position but prevents some of the quick touchdowns seen in the earlier part of the year. But the "D" grade is in play this week because of the missed extra points and the fumbled kickoff returns on the short kickoffs (both recovered by Clemson).

COACHING: A
Once again the Tigers were faced with another must-win in regards to the conference race, and once again the team responded with a convincing win ... and this time it came on the road. 10 games into Dabo Swinney's first full season as Clemson's head coach, it's becoming crystal clear a new era is beginning for Clemson football. The Tigers are more physical, better prepared week in and week out and are improving as the season progresses. Simply put, Dabo Swinney and his staff have done exactly what they were brought in to do - become more mentally tough, advance to the ACC Championship game and contend for a BCS berth. While it's not official just yet, all Clemson needs to do is take care of business against lowly Virginia next weekend at home, or have Boston College lose either one of its final two conference games to make their first-ever ACC Championship game appearance. Swinney and the Clemson coaching staff give off the impression they refuse to allow this team to fail - and if that isn't a refreshing tone compared to what we've seen in recent years, I don't know what is.

OVERALL: B+
At the end of the day, the score tells most of the story as the Tigers defeated a conference opponent by 20 points on the road in a game they had to have to keep control of their own destiny in the ACC. The offense continues to be dynamic, the defense has been solid and Dabo Swinney has his finger on the emotional pulse of this team, pressing the right buttons now for the fifth consecutive week. While it could all quickly come crashing down with an upset loss to Virginia next weekend, the likelihood of that happening in C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford's last home game with a team playing at the level seen the last five weeks seems slim. Special teams prevent the "A" grade, but overall it was another strong performance for a team that continues to get better each and every game.

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