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Clemson vs Wake Forest: Position Grades (Defense & ST)

This was painful to watch.

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY NETWORK

Football is a three phase game. Offense, Defense and Special Teams all work together to try and claim victory. This past Saturday it was the Clemson offense and special teams that carried the load and supported the Clemson D. Considering the Clemson D carried the entire team all of last year, they are allowed some growing pains and having a bad game every once in awhile. Even Brent Venables had one or two games a year when he was outfoxed and the offense needed to bail the D out due to a poor performance.


This was the worst Clemson defensive performance in the past two years. We haven’t seen our secondary abused like this since the last time we played OSU and it took DJU taking a big step forward to carry the team to victory. The odd thing was that before the 3rd quarter things weren’t all bad.

The Defense in the 1st half looked as we would expect coming into the game. We shut down Wake Forest’s ground game, the two TDs they scored were both aided by questionable calls, the ones in the 2nd half weren’t questionable at all, and were perfect passes from an experienced Wake QB and WRs. The 3rd quarter was an unmitigated disaster with the team giving up 3 TDs and every DB looking lost or outright abused by Wake’s WRs. We have to shore up the defense because right now this isn’t the dominate unit we were expecting coming into the year.

Let’s see how each position graded out.


We’re not getting enough consistent pressure from our DEs. Henry, Mascoll and Murphy have to win one on one matchups more often then they are for this DL to reach the lofty heights we thought we’d see this year. We’re only seeing flashes of that dominance and then disappearing acts by the players. Every QB we’ve played has been far too comfortable in the pocket and our young secondary desperately needs the DEs to create disruption to help them against good WRs. There were a number of times where had our DEs gotten home even a half second quicker, long completed passes or TDs would have been sacks.

Hopefully the return of Thomas will help energize the room.

Grade: C-


The lone bright spot this past weekend was that the DTs were able to push the pocket, stop any runs up the middle, and create pressure. Tyler Davis had a standout game with 3 individual tackles, 1 and a half sacks and clogging the lane. Ruke Orhorhoro continues his impressive year with a sack of his own and started the game beside Davis. Breese and Page were solid but didn’t appear to make as big of an impact as we expected.

Though they were the best unit they also had trouble getting off of blocks. To be fair to them, there was a number of uncalled holds that would have effected some of those long Wake drives but we should expect terrible officiating by the ACC and play accordingly.

NCST may become a ground and pound game due to the weather and we will need the DTs to continue to improve and clog the middle. The hope is they begin to get help from the DEs and LBs to apply pressure and cause some chaos.

Grade: B-


This wasn’t a great day for the LBs. When they blitzed, they failed to get home and Wake exploited the defense. They were fine in gap integrity in the first half but in the second, we saw this break down and Wake begin to churn out yards on the ground. With the DEs struggling to get to opposing QBs, we need the LBs to help the DTs with applying pressure. Credit Wake for doing a great job in blitz pick up but we shouldn’t expect our all world LBs to struggle getting to the Wake QB.

Trenton Simpson lead the team in tackles but he was out of position a number of times and got caught up in the wash more than expected. He is still learning the WILL position and some growing pains were to be expected. He’s not a liability by any sense, this just wasn't his best game of the year. He was in position on the TD pass to the TE down the seam but failed to maintain his position and make a play on the ball. Carter and Trotter were similarly solid but unimpressive.

Grade: C-


Well this was a game to forget for the DBs.

As stated last week, being down 3 starters (Mukuba, Greene and Jones) is forcing the younger players into playing far more snaps then should be expected. It was hoped they wouldn’t have to be heavily relied on when we played Wake and NCST but unfortunately that’s the position we were placed in. The lack of experience was evident, especially in the 3rd quarters. Our DBs were beaten off the LOS, panicked, never got their heads around, and grabbed the Wake WRs seemingly every play. Wake has the QB and the WRs to take advantage of the young secondary and they did.

Pride is going to be a good CB. He looks the part and was actually in good position a lot of times, he just never got his head around to make a play on the ball. Wake’s WR also made some great catches and Hartman put the ball right on the money. You tip your hat to them for making those plays.

Wiggins and Fred Davis’s struggles are a lot harder to stomach. Davis has played poorly a few times this year and seems flatfooted at the start of plays. Wake’s WR looked to fly right by him time after time. Wiggins was picked on badly and he let his emotions get the best of him in a move that should have drawn a flag. He needs to keep his head straight and work on his technique. He’s comments this week seem to point to a fire being lite inside of him after this performance and hopefully it leads to improvement on the field.

Brent Venables’ best defenses relied on having one true lock down CB that could be left on an island freeing the D up to send elaborate blitzes to bring pressure. Until we have that type of CB play again, bringing pressure has been high risk no reward thus far in the year. The talent is on the team, the experience is not and it’s being exploited by almost every QB we’ve played thus far.

Safety play has not been good since Mukuba has been injured. Phillips and Venables don’t have the speed to get from side line to side line further exasperating the poor CB play as well. Until this is improved, we may have to play two deep safeties to keep everything in front of us and force teams to drive against the D.

Grade: F


We played a very similar scheme to what we used last year. The difference is that last year we had two great CBs and solid safety play so Wake had little opportunities in the air until the game was already in hand. The DL also won one on one matchups early and often to rattle Hartman.

None of that happened this year and Wes took to long in the 3rd to adjust. We kept putting CBs on islands to try and bring more pressure and by that time Hartman was in his zone and picking us apart. Once we finally backed up the safeties the long plays went away and Wake had to be more methodical. Conversely, once we did this Wake began to gain yards on the ground so it was a bad situation all around.

It also appears that removing a lot of the motion and disguising of the D that Venables did is causing an issue. It wouldn't really matter if the opposing offense knows what the defense plans to do if we can get home and win one on one matchups. With this not happening, we may need to get more exotic and try and fool/confuse the opposing QB/OL to create some opportunities.

Grade: D


Potter is Mr. Automatic. That 50+ yard FG was nailed with ice water in his veins. As stated last week, we can rely on him to make high pressure FGs in big games and he did that very thing last Saturday. He is a weapon that we will miss next year.

Punting was bad again this week. 32 yards per punt is not going to get it done and we need to more consistency against NC ST, we can’t give teams free yards to start their drives.

Kickoff and punt returns were a mixed bag. I don’t want Shipley returning kicks. He’s far too valuable to have back there and the risk of injury is not worth it. Also no Drew Swinney please. Antonio Williams was a happy surprise and I hope he gets more opportunities. His return helped set up a crucial drive and score.

Grade: B-

We have NC ST coming to Death Valley this Saturday and Gameday will be in town. We need a much better showing from the Defense is we plan to remain undefeated. Wes Goodwin has a lot to clean up. Hopefully we at least get Mukuba and Greene back to bolster the secondary. If not, we may be in for another shoot out against a better defense.


What Grade do you give the Clemson Defense and ST against Wake Forest

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