Clemson Football: Report Card Grades for the Tigers' Third Game
Coming into the game at 2-0, the Clemson Tigers and head coach Dabo Swinney would face their first test of the season with hosting the Auburn Tigers in Death Valley. Clemson was looking to avenge the last two meetings between the schools, which have been decided by three points or less in both contests.
However, on Saturday, that was not the case.
Saturday saw the growing up and maturation of a young Clemson team that managed to rebound from a 21-7 deficit to claim a decisive win over Auburn, snapping their 17 game winning streak and becoming the first team to defeat the defending national champions. Auburn made some plays on both sides of the ball, but in the end could not stop Clemson's offense the entire game, nor could their own offense stay on the field after Clemson's halftime adjustments.
Swinney noted the maturation of this team, and it showed itself very well. They certainly managed to overcome the Wofford scare last week, and have emerged with a new report card heading into Week 4 against Florida State.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd has done all that the coaches have asked of him and more, and his hard work in the offseason paid off on Saturday in Clemson’s victory over Auburn. Boyd finished 30-of-42 for 386 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. Boyd has taken on a leadership role of this team and has meshed well with the new offense and made good use of the weapons around him.
Boyd will have to take his momentum into next week as the Tigers host the Florida State Seminoles in a highly anticipated ACC matchup, one that could be a huge factor for the ACC Atlantic Division crown.
On a day where the Tigers had a favorable matchup on the ground, they had trouble getting things going early. While starter Andre Ellington rushed for only 44 yards due to a pulled hamstring injury, he did score a touchdown and display some hard runs while he was active.
During the week, Swinney noted that freshman DJ Howard and Mike Bellamy needed to take a more active role in carrying the football and giving them a better change of pace. On Saturday, these backs did just that, especially in the second half when Ellington was sidelined. Howard showed he is capable as the primary back up, gaining tough yards on the ground, showing a good combination of speed and power and finishing with nine carries for 86 yards, leading Clemson in rushing yards.
Bellamy is still a little slower learning the nuances of the offense, and despite his fumble, still showed potential and plenty of speed around the edge. These two running backs have shown that they are capable of more active roles in the offense and are capable of running the ball.
Once again, Boyd made great use of the much improved receiving rotation Clemson didn’t have in 2010. There was a heavy dose of true freshman Sammy Watkins, who continues to shine as he reeled in 10 receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Deandre "Nuke" Hopkins also had his own share of highlights, nabbing seven receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Dwayne Allen also continues to shine, as he reeled in seven catches for 80 yards.
The receivers have become a lot more sure handed than last season, and Clemson appears to have found the right receiving rotation, with Hopkins, Watkins and Jaron Brown as the first three primary receivers, with true freshmen Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant as capable backups. Allen provides a great security blanket for Boyd, and he will continue to play an important part of the passing game.
Despite the absence of starter David Smith at guard, the Tigers manage to make it on the offensive line by not allowing one sack on Boyd through the entire game and showed more presence physically than they have in their first two games. Even with the injury of Mason Cloy, sophomore Brandon Thomas filled in nicely as Cloy’s replacement.
On the ground, the Tigers managed 238 net rushing yards and also managed 386 net passing yards. Thanks in large part to the involvement of more pass protectors in the form of tight ends and running backs, coupled with the decision making of quarterback Tajh Boyd, the offensive line had its best game against Auburn in both facets of the offense.
Through the first two weeks, the defensive line has had trouble disrupting a lot of plays in the backfield, and has been missing too many tackles. Today, the defensive line, despite not registering any sacks, kept Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter under pressure for the entire second half and found their push that they have lacked for the first three weeks.
The line, however, still needs to find a way to translate those quarterback pressures into sacks, and the tackling must continue to improve. Missed tackles were a big part of why Auburn's Michael Dyer rushed for over 150 yards. Against Florida State’s EJ Manuel, who is the best dual threat quarterback the Tigers will face, tackling will be essential for the entire defense.
The linebackers struggled to play their parts in the first half, and while they certainly improved in the second half, the play of middle linebacker Corico Hawkins was part of the reason their grade is lower than the defensive line.
The linebackers still aren’t as active, and too many tackles are being made by players in the secondary. With a talented freshmen like Step hone Anthony waiting in the wings with so much potential, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele might consider actually starting Anthony sooner rather than later if Hawkins doesn’t step his game up soon.
Despite a few busted plays, the secondary was able to hold Auburn’s quarterback to only 198 net passing yards and came up with an interception by defensive back Coty Sensabaugh. Out of all the defensive backs, Sensabaugh had the best day. As was the case with the entire defense, there is an emphasis on missed tackles, especially in the open field. But, the physical play of the corners was better, and the safeties were more involved with run support and made some good tackles as well.
Heading into Week 4, the secondary must work on tackling and not giving up the bug play, especially in man coverage situations.
The game was not on kicker Chandler Cantanzaro’s shoulders in an overtime game. He simply had to worry, for the most part, about extra points, on which he went 5-5. He also went 1-1 on field goals, nailing a 38 yard field goal. Spencer Benton remains solid on holds and kick offs, despite the one kick out of bounds, he remained solid on the day.
Clemson had no chances for any kinds of returns today, and going into Week 4, Cantanzaro’s confidence is in the right place, and he must continue his positive field goal streak, as this game may be a closer one that could indeed come down to one final kick.
Dabo Swinney and the coaching staff did a great job of keeping the players grounded when Auburn jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the beginning of the game and when they also had a 21-7 lead in the second quarter. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris opened up the playbook very nicely, and showed Clemson fans plenty of things they had not seen in the first two weeks. The offense finished with over 500 yards of total offense. Steele, after an up and down first half, made great pressure and coverage adjustment sot the defense, who, for the third straight week, allowed no touchdowns in the second half from the opposing team.
The ability for Dabo and this coaching staff to make such great halftime adjustments was a key part in their victory against Auburn, and graded out very well because of those adjustments.
As always, the talent with Clemson is there, and it’s starting to manifest a lot more on the offensive side o f the ball. On defense, it is taking a little longer, especially along the defensive line, where there is youth and inexperience galore. The only way to mold this talent is to allow for more playing time and finding more ways to get them that experience, especially in the next two weeks, as the Tigers host FSU and travel to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech.