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NC State Game Review: Position Group Ratings

The Tigers drop to 4-4 on the year and .500 winning percentage after the second loss in as many weeks to NC State on Saturday afternoon.

NCAA Football: Clemson at North Carolina State Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Hello folks! We are back again and unfortunately, we have another loss to analyze as the Tigers now have 4 losses before November after losing to NC State on Saturday afternoon. Let’s take a look into each position group and see how they performed in the 24-17 loss. These ratings are my own and are subjective, so don’t take them to be an exact science. Let’s get into it and leave your thoughts in the comment section!

Quarterback - 4

I thought the afternoon in Raleigh for Cade Klubnik was a mixed bag as the young quarterback threw two interceptions on the day – which proved to be the difference in the game. I threw Cade under the bus last week giving him a 3 rating, but if you look at his numbers, he actually played a decent game in Miami. I believe I was just extremely annoyed by the final play. On Saturday, he had his fair share of poor throws – especially the first interception. His lack of composure and awareness is starting to become a worry. As fans, we want him to grow up quickly, but it seems it may take longer than anticipated with Cade.

Running Backs - 5

The running backs had a fairly average day. Nothing too extreme in either direction, which lately for this group means good news. No fumbles! Mafah lead the way with 84 yards after Shipley went out with injury, and I thought he played well. He showed great balance to break a couple of tackles on his 41-yard run to provide the biggest gain on the ground for the day. Hopefully Shipley can recover from what looked like a nasty injury with a hit to the neck area (looked like targeting to me). Dominique Thomas did get to play some but did not show up on the stat sheet.

Wide Receivers - 4

The receiving corps was very active on Saturday afternoon as the Tiger offense attempted 50 passes, however there were not a lot of big plays coming from this group. Clemson’s most reliable big play threat, Tyler Brown, picked up a knock early in the game and struggled to get involved from that point on. Troy Stellato led the way with 7 receptions but only had 29 yards to show for it as he caught mostly underneath routes. Beaux Collins did reel in a nice 28-yard catch in the first half while fighting for the ball in the air with the defender, but he dropped critical 3rd down ball in the 3rd quarter. Nothing really explosive from this group this week unfortunately as NC State was forcing to make Clemson throw underneath.

Tight Ends - 8

Maserati Jake Briningstool had his second huge game in as many weeks as he led all Clemson route runners with 8 receptions for 93 yards. I loved the way he fought for yards after the catch and looked athletic in the open field. That kind of play is what we had anticipated for him at the beginning of the season, and I am glad he is starting to display his talent. Sage Ennis also caught a big 28-yard pass that almost went for a touchdown. From my eyes, it looks like Ennis has been getting more looks and I love his blocking ability on the perimeter and in short yardage situations. He looked George Kittle-esque on Mafah’s second touchdown run, knocking his man 5 yards into the endzone. Love that!

Offensive Line - 3

I thought the offensive line had another below average performance on Saturday as the Tiger’s mustered 101 yards on 30 carries for 3.4 yds/carry. The GT counter – a staple of the Garret Riley offense – does not seem feasible with this group. Either the play gets blown up before the side can pull, or the pullers miss their blocker. Surprisingly redshirt sophomore Tristan Leigh got a start at right guard in an effort to put best 5 in the trenches for the Tigers. The O-line had trouble protecting the quarterback on third down all afternoon when NC State would bring different blitz packages. If you stunt against this O-line, you are likely to have success at creating pressure. This group has been a shell of itself since Walker Parks’ injury.

Offense - 4.8

Scoring 17 points in ACC games is likely not going to be good enough to win very many football games. This offense continues to find way to shoot itself in the foot time after time, and we can now go into each game just wondering with the next disaster play will strike. The two interceptions that were thrown proved to be the difference in the game – one was a pick-six, and the other NC State scored a touchdown on 4 plays later. This offense does not have enough playmakers to be able to play from behind, and with each turnover that occurs, the pressure mounts on this unit to create some electricity that has not been on displayed consistently throughout the season.

The loss on Saturday marked the 3rd game out of the 4 losses that Clemson has outgained its opponent and still lost. In the 4 games Clemson has lost, they have outgained their opponents for a total of 311 yards, which means Clemson is outgaining their opponents on average by 78 yards in each loss. I believe this statistic alone is the reason why the losses have been such a bitter pill to swallow.

Another statistic of note is that Clemson had its lowest yards per play of the season on Saturday. The Tigers ran 81 plays (compared to NC State’s 46) for 364 yards, which comes out to 4.5 yds/play. This is the lowest total that was achieved this season behind the 4.8 yds/play during the Wake Forest game. It is obvious the game plan to play against the Clemson offense is to give Clemson everything underneath and let them matriculate their way down the field. Eventually the hope is that Clemson combusts on itself, which is sound logic because it has happened in virtually every game this season. Being able to run the ball effectively would go a long way for this unit, and the inability to run it well the past two games has been the Achilles heel during the two losses.

Defensive Line - 8

The defensive line had what I thought was dominant display on Saturday and returned to form after a disappointing performance against Miami. Defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro was the standout performer with a sack and 3 total tackles for loss. Peyton Page and Demonte Capehart both also looked impressive in their opportunities to play with Peter Woods out this week. It was good to see Xaiver Thomas back as well. Minus the ends not keeping leverage on Concepcion’s 50 yard run, this group kept NC State from having much success on the ground. They finished with 64 yards on 26 carries for 2.5 yds/carry.

Linebackers - 8

Jeremiah Trotter had one of his better games this season as the junior led the team in tackles and looked disruptive and quick all afternoon. Trotter made some plays in space on Saturday that I am not sure if he would have made earlier in the season while recovering from his hamstring injury. I also was pleased to hear Coach Swinney say to the media this week that Trotter, who is known for being a quiet soldier, was extremely outspoken after the loss to Miami. This type of player led leadership has been missing from the defensive unit, and Trotter has to be the one to fill the void. Sophomore linebacker Wade Woodaz also provided a big sack from the SAM role on Saturday for this unit.

Cornerbacks - 7

The corners were not tested too much on Saturday with NC State only attempting 20 passes. Nate Wiggins and Sheridan Jones both started and did not give up any major plays in the pass game, and essentially had the NC State receivers locked down. One of the biggest plays of the day came when sophomore corner Toriano Pride was covering KC Concepcion on an island and was beat for a 72-yard touchdown. Pride gave the Wolfpack receiver a lot of space and then made a really poor arm tackle that the receiver was able to break easily and then streak to the endzone for a costly touchdown.

Safeties - 8

I thought the safety play was solid between the three starters on Saturday afternoon. Jalyn Philips had a big pass break up on 3rd down during one of the early NC State drives that set the tone for the defense. Freshmen Khalil Barnes played in place of injured RJ Mickens and continued to impress as an instinctive playmaker providing a tackle for loss and 3 total tackles.

Defense - 7.8

The defensive unit played good enough to win on Saturday, which has been a reoccurring theme in the some of the Tiger's losses this season. The Tigers only gave up 202 total yards and 17 points, which on any given Saturday should give you a great chance to win a football game. Let’s be honest, NC State does not have a great offensive unit – a unit that currently is sitting as the 83rd best scoring offense in the nation. The Tigers defense did what they needed to do to get stops and keep NC State’s offense off the field – who only ran 46 plays as previously mentioned. The defense held NC State to 3 of 13 on 3rd down conversion attempts and gave the Clemson offense several opportunities to win the game.

The elephant in the room is that NC State gained 60% of their yards on 2 plays – KC Concepcion’s 50-yard run in the first half and his 72-yard touchdown reception in the second half. These two plays were crucial because they gave NC State 14 points off of Clemson turnovers and proved to be decisive in the game's final outcome. On the flipside of that, the Tiger defense was searching all day for a turnover and never could find a way to heavily flip the momentum of the game. This team needed a spark, and the defense was not able to create any extra energy for the offense to feed off of.

Special Teams - 3

The special teams continue to underwhelm as Jonathan Weitz missed a field goal at the end of the first half that would have tied the game up going to halftime. The Tiger’s kicking woes have almost become a backburner story, but they continue to rear its ugly head and prove costly. The chip shot that he made did not really look too accurate either if we are being honest. I am not sure how Robert Gunn is doing, but it may be time to give him another look if Weitz is going to continue to miss important field goals.

Coaching - 4

I thought Wes Goodwin obviously had a good gameplan for the Wolfpack on Saturday. The defense looked sharper than they did against Miami and played more aggressive. The defensive front dominated, and NC State only had 80 yards of offense on 44 plays – not counting the two huge plays. That is pretty dang good defense.

The offense coaching staff on the other hand will have a lot to dissect when they look at the game film. When taking a look at the final drive of the game, the Tigers ran about 3 minutes off the clock and had only gone about 30-40 yards when they needed to go 92 yards in 4:23. There was an odd lack of urgency and game awareness on the final drive. I thought some of the play calls on 3rd down at different points in the game were head scratching as well. On the other hand, it was nice to see us line up in the I-formation with Mafah on the goal line twice to punch it on for two touchdowns. It’s funny how football can be easy sometimes.

This team lacks intensity, accountability, and mental toughness. I believe the coaches should be held responsible for those issues, and these issues must get fixed before Clemson can play in a manner that promotes winning football.

Overall Team Performance - 5.8

If you were able to listen to the broadcast during the game, one thing I heard the announcers say was that NC State was focused on playing complimentary football, which I would say they succeeded in doing. Their defense was able to force turnovers and the offense was able to turn those takeaways into points, ultimately deciding the game. I have concluded that this Clemson team plays whatever is the exact opposite of complimentary football. Let’s call it capitulation football. In capitulation football, you put extreme pressure on the other unit to do their job until they finally capitulate and have a catastrophic event that decides the outcome of the game in a losing manner. That is the way the Tigers have played football this year. At the current moment, it appears that this team will have difficulty beating anyone remaining on the schedule. Who thought we would be saying that this season?

The optimist in me wants to believe that this team can play better and will salvage something from this season. In 2003, Clemson was 5-4 on November 1st and ended up knocking off #3 Florida State, torching South Carolina 63-17, and beating #6 Tennessee in the Peach Bowl to go 9-4. The perfect opportunity for the 2023 team to redeem themselves awaits Saturday against #12 Notre Dame as the Fighting Irish roll into Death Valley. Let’s will this team to victory on Saturday. They will need us!

Bonus Rating: Ref Cam - 10

The “Ref Cam” must be exclusive technology that the CW is privy to and should now be utilized in every game. The ref cam is a high-tech gadget that looks like something from a Bond movie in the 1984. Who doesn’t want to see a grainy image of a play from the referee's point of view? Perfect way to catch some ACC action on the CW!