Clemson progress report: Grading the Tigers heading into November

The only statistic in which Clemson’s been fairly consistent this season is the win column.

Take away the 51-14 debacle against now No. 3 Florida State, and the Tigers have done everything asked of them through two-thirds of the season.

Sure there’s been some impressive performances (Georgia, Wake Forest and Syracuse) mixed in with some teeth-gnashers and head-scratchers (N.C. State, Boston College and Maryland), but of Clemson’s seven victories, none have been particularly close to defeat in the waning moments.

The high-powered offense has been up and down, and the defense has made strides in some areas while continuing to scuffle in others. Yet, the Tigers are No. 8 in the latest BCS standings, matched up with where they started in the preseason polls.

After eight games, with four more to go in the regular season, here’s a breakdown of specific units and position groups, with grades on each:

Passing game

Tajh Boyd has been mostly accurate, but turned it over some. The wide receivers and tight ends have been mostly explosive, but dropped the ball some. The team has missed DeAndre Hopkins (NFL) and Charone Peake (torn ACL).

Grade: B+

Running game

Quietly effective, a 1,000-yard campaign isn’t out of the question for Roderick McDowell. Both he and Zac Brooks are averaging five yards a clip, and Boyd’s a magician in short yardage.

Grade: A-

Offensive line

The Tigers ranked outside the top 80 in tackles for loss in offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ first two years. Now, they’re outside the top 100. This is not a championship unit, still uncertain at left guard and right tackle.

Grade: C+

Defensive line

Vic Beasley’s been better than advertised. Corey Crawford’s been an unsung hero in so many ways. Grady Jarrett’s a load in the middle. Three-quarters of the group has held up its end.

Grade: A


Stephone Anthony lost his job last year, and he’s bounced back brilliantly (80 tackles, 9.5 for a loss.) Spencer Shuey shows up every day and does his usual solid work despite a toe injury. They’re not national award-winners, but they’ve been effective.

Grade: A-


Defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ wish was granted: the veterans held off the young bucks for jobs. Darius Robinson and Bashaud Breeland have been trusty corners, while the safeties (particularly Travis Blanks) have room to grow.

Grade: B+

Special teams

Chandler Catanzaro and Bradley Pinion give Clemson the luxury of an experienced kicker and punter who allow the Tigers that special teams edge. There haven’t been very many big returns gained or allowed. Grade: B+


The Tigers were prepared perfectly for the season opener against Georgia; not so much Oct. 19 against Florida State. Morris has spent most of the year coaxing greatness out of a good offense. Venables has seldom been satisfied with a surprisingly good defense. As Morris said, Clemson will be judged not by its start, but its finish.

Grade: B

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