If there was one word to describe Clemson's victory over NC State on Saturday, it was this: ugly.
Clemson had absolutely no offensive cohesion. The offense looked completely different without Andre Ellington in the backfield.
Tajh Boyd, as expected, did take some snaps, but he proved to be a factor in motivating Kyle Parker to step up when it counted. Jamie Harper took most of the load with Ellington out, with Rod McDowell having little impact in the running game.
The kicking woes continued, with senior Richard Jackson missing field goals in the game; it's looking as though the kicking game has become a mental problem for the Clemson kickers.
The defense was spot-on, holding NC State to only 13 points despite the Wolfpack's five trips into the red zone. It was successful in pressuring NC State and containing Russell Wilson. The defensive line played lights out, the linebackers exceeded expectations and the secondary shined as well.
As difficult as the growing pains have been for the Clemson Tigers under Dabo Swinney, the Tigers still have a chance to claim the Atlantic Division if several things swing in their favor, one of which includes defeating FSU, which is entirely likely at this point in the season.
Clemson has several things going for them.
For Clemson, it all starts on defense. They boast one of the better secondaries in the ACC, with DeAndre McDaniel leading the secondary. Next comes the defensive line, one of the best in the ACC, anchored by junior Da'Quan Bowers and manned on the inside by senior Jarvis Jenkins and junior Brandon Thompson.
The linebackers have been improving and are led by Corico Hawkins in the middle, along with Brandon Maye and Quandon Christian on the outside.
Clemson's defense will be one of the better defenses the Seminoles have faced all year.
Clemson's offense is not to be underestimated either, despite their recent struggles with Parker. The receivers have better caught on, but now Parker is beginning to put too much on himself. Harper will again experience most of the work, and McDowell is sure to play in spot duty. The young receivers must also be careful to not get caught up in the spotlight of Florida State.
If Parker can make better decisions and trust his young receivers in the passing game, the Florida State defense may struggle to keep up, and it will force them to respect Clemson's passing game.
Special teams must settle its kicking situation. Missed field goals have been a difference maker on the scoreboard the last couple of weeks. The kickers must regain their confidence; missed field goals aren't all mechanics, but it's now starting to become a mental problem for the group.
Overall, the defense will be what helps carry this Clemson team throughout the last three games of the season.
*Note: It was written that Clemson booed the team at one point in the game, which was untrue. Clemson fans were booing the referees for questionable calls.
Clemson fans also have a new tradition for one of the team's freshmen, DeAndre Hopkins. Whenever Hopkins makes a play, the crowd says his nickname loudly, deeply and slowly, "Nuke," which may have been mistaken for boos by some other sources. Clemson fans never booed the team at any point in the game.
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