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Clemson vs NC State: Position Grades (Defense & ST)

A Return to Form

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Clemson Defense rebounded after the poor showing a week prior against Wake Forest. NC ST came into the game confident that they would be able to exploit the same weaknesses as Wake, and on paper, it’s understandable why they believed so.

Like Wake Forest, NC ST came into the game with a veteran QB in Devin Leary, whom many believed was one of the best in the entire ACC. They have talented skill players and an OL that can keep Leary clean to find the open receiver. It was assumed they would be able to dink and dunk their way down the field if we played our DBs off the LOS and go deep if we played press coverage.

The Clemson defense heard all week about their poor performance against Wake and responded with their most complete game of the season. Let’s take a look at each position.


We have been clamoring for the DEs to live up to the lofty expectations heaped upon them before the season began. Both Murphy and Henry stepped up and prevented Leary from getting too comfortable. Henry didn’t have a sack but did have TFLs and a number of QB hits and hurries. Murphy had 1.5 sacks and showed just what a difference-maker he can be when fully invested. Swint and Mascoll spelled the starters well and weren’t a liability when they entered the game. The DEs helped stuff the run, made NC ST one-dimensional, and recognized/attacked the screen plays excellently.

This is the impact that we have come to expect and it’s what the young secondary needed to take pressure off of them. There were plays to be had by NC ST but Leary had no time to allow them to develop as the pocket was collapsing on him routinely and pressure was in his face. This was a great showing against a top-10 opponent that entered the game only giving up 4 sacks on the year. Thanks in part to our DEs, they gave up 3 this game.

Grade: A


Clemson held NC ST to only 42 total yards rushing and that was due to the DTs abusing the interior of their OL. Breese was out with kidney stones but once again the depth of the DTs was on display. Ruke and Davis were immovable, allowed the LBs to attack their gaps, and also applied pressure up the middle. Any screen play that NC ST tried to run was immediately sniffed out by the DTs and blown up. Clemson was able to apply pressure with only 4 down linemen and that doesn’t happen without the DTs continuing their high level of play.

The DTs have been the most talented and consistent defensive group and they once again flexed their muscles in Death Valley. They won’t see another OL as good as Wake or NC ST for the rest of the year. With the DEs starting to step up, the DTs should continue to disrupt opposing teams’ run games as well as put pressure up the middle.

Grade: A+


This was a much better game for the LBs. They were in position, plugged the gaps, and got after the QB. Carter especially is continuing to improve his play and be a terror. He set the tone for the second half with a beautiful blitz that got home and rattled Leary. He had a chance for an INT later in the game as well had he focused on the ball rather than the receiver. He’s been the most consistent LB on the team this year and will continue to improve with experience. Simpson and Trotter played well against the run and when asked to move back into coverage. They are improving their recognition of screen plays and aided the DL in shutting that down.

Keith Maguire deserves a special shout-out. He was 4th on the team in total tackles for the game and was flying around. He even had an impressive INT that was called back due to a terrible roughing the passer call. He’s been getting more playing time as the year has progressed and against NC ST he and Trotter almost evenly split the snaps at MIKE. Some of this may be due to Trotter being a little banged up but there does not appear to be a drop-off once Maguire is in the game. This depth will pay dividends down the road.

Grade: A


This was the group that all agreed would determine the outcome of the game. If they had a repeat of their performance against Wake then the game would be another shootout and Clemson would have to hope for another transcendent game from DJ and the offense. That did not come to pass and a lot of praise needs to be given to the DBs for responding well.

We were once again without Greene or Jones and resorted to playing Mukuba at CB with mixed results. Another terrible officiating call resulted in Mukuba being ejected from the game and we were in the exact same position in the secondary as we were a week prior. Thankfully, both Wiggins and Pride stepped up their play tremendously. They were aided by the game plan that gave them safety help over the top and played them off the LOS to limit any chances of being blown by.

The confidence of these two players is apparent to see. Wiggins plays with a chip on his shoulder and should have had a pick-six if he could just catch the ball! Pride did come up with an INT due to a tipped pass but kudos to him for keeping his eyes on the ball and making the play. Both players also tackled well and kept NC ST’s YACs down. This was a much better showing from both players and they will only improve with time.

It’s telling that Fred Davis didn’t play at all this game. It appears that Pride has moved above him on the depth chart and it’s understandable why. While both Pride and Davis struggled against Wake, Pride is a true freshman and was actually in position more times than not and it took a great pass and catch from Wake to beat him. Davis was routinely out of position and beaten off the LOS. His tackling has also been lackluster at times this year and he needs a re-evaluation of his commitment to be great.

The safeties all played well in this game. Venables, Phillips, Covil, and Mickens all played a very similar number of snaps and none appeared to have any outright busts or poor play. Venables in particular lead the team in tackles and has been playing better recently. Without Mukuba, there is still a general lack of speed at this position but they are getting better at playing with their eyes and limiting any potential big plays with proper positioning. Covil as a true freshman has proven himself a reliable option in the back end and will continue to improve as his snaps increase.

There is still room for improvement and we need to get our players healthy, but this was a much better showing for the DBs against the best remaining opponent on our schedule.

Grade: B


This was the Clemson game plan this week:

  1. Play the DBs off the LOS and keep everything in front of them
  2. Tackle well to prevent YAC and force NC ST to methodically march down the field
  3. Tighten up in the RZ to prevent TDs
  4. Have the front 7 win one on one matchups and get after Leary

A relatively simple plan, but one that protects the weaker secondary and puts the onus on the DL in particular to elevate their play and get to the QB. Every coach looks good when their guys are winning one on one matchups and the DL came to play this game and dominated up front, disrupting anything that NC ST tried to do. We also saw a bit more disguising of where the pressure was going to come from when we did blitz and the DL showed more stunts and twits to create pressure.

It should be pointed out that the officiating in this game was poor and gave NC ST more opportunities to score. Both of their scoring drives in the 1st half were aided by some very questionable calls. The last drive of the game should have ended in a Maguire INT if not for a bogus roughing the passer call followed up by another bogus holding in the secondary. Without these calls, the NC ST total yardage in the game would have been 40-50 yards less.

The staff should be commended for coming in with a good game plan to protect the weakness of the secondary and inspiring the starters to elevate their level of play. Before the garbage time TD, they held NC ST to only 13 points. Wes will continue to improve as he gets more experience and thankfully, he won’t see an offense as good as Wake or NC ST for the rest of the year.

Grade: B


Potter is such an important part of this team and we are truly blessed to have him. He nailed every FG save for one that just pulled to the left. Clemson is perfect in the RZ this year due to him being so automatic once we get into his range. Even the announcers were commenting on his ability and the comfort Clemson must feel knowing that once they get to the opponent's 30, they can pretty much count on getting at least 3 points. We don’t beat Wake or NC ST without his clutch kicks.

Swanson had 3 punts for a 40-yard average. Not great but not terrible either. He also drew a running into the kicker call to aid the offense on one of their scoring drives. Hopefully, he continues to improve and can better flip the field when called upon.

Punt and kickoff returns are still being conservative, probably because of the improvement of the offense, but it would be nice to see us try and be more aggressive.

Grade: A-


What Grade do you give the Clemson Defense and ST against NC ST?

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