Arriving at the season's halfway point, Clemson Nation can look at the glass as half full or half empty.
The half-empty approach notes the offense remains handicapped without a proven vertical passing game, and a second straight turnaround is made more difficult by a stronger ACC.
The half-full believers see Clemson still as one of the more talented teams in the conference, improvement against Maryland, and many preseason goals still attainable.
Subscribers to each approach can agree Clemson must improve on its interim grades:
Clemson ranks 89th in passing offense, trailing Eastern Michigan, Buffalo and Florida Atlantic. The passing game struggled in the first half of the season as receivers failed to create separation from opponents and themselves in an extended competition. Quarterback Kyle Parker has regressed as a sophomore, but he's also been affected by a rib/back injury. The key to the second half of the season is how quickly Clemson can open up the passing game with young receivers like DeAndre Hopkins. While Andre Ellington and the offensive line were the first-half highlights, Clemson's per-game rushing averages have declined three straight weeks as defenses cheat to take away Clemson's strength.
Da'Quan Bowers has realized his potential. Bowers leads the nation in sacks (9) and tackles for loss (15.5), putting together possibly the finest defensive season in program history. The Clemson run defense has also moderately improved, but the pass defense, which was excellent a year ago -- ranking seventh nationally -- has struggled, allowing critical big plays at Auburn and against Miami. The development of young corners like Xavier Brewer and Darius Robinson will be key going forward against the passing attacks of South Carolina, Florida State and N.C. State.
Special teams (A-)
The most consistent area to date. Punter Dawson Zimmerman has morphed from a practice All-American to game-day All-American. The Clemson return team has shut down the elite return games of Miami and Maryland. Ellington proved he can be a dynamic kickoff returner, and Marcus Gilchrist and Hopkins have flashed ability on punt returns. No team in America could replace the production of C.J. Spiller, but the Tigers have been solid in special teams.
Coaching (C )
There have been good moments: the first half at Auburn, special teams play, the development of players like Hopkins and Bowers, an improved offensive line and physical mentality. But the Clemson staff waited too long to trim down the receiving corps, resulting in a lack of continuity. The staff also waited until the sixth game of the season to make Ellington a feature back. Clemson has also been on the losing end of two games decided by five points or fewer.
Overall (C )
The Tigers are 3-3, .500, otherwise known as average. The first half has featured flashes of potential mixed in with big-play busts and offensive struggles. The Tigers are talented. And if the young receivers have a shallow learning curve and build trust with Parker, another Atlantic Division title is possible. But with Florida State and N.C. State improved, it will be a more difficult climb than last season.
Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow Travis Sawchik on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).
OverallClemson (C)USC (B)OffenseClemson (C-)USC (B+)DefenseClemson (C+)USC (C+)CoachingClemson (C)USC (B)Special TeamsClemson (A-)USC (B-)
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