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Florida Atlantic Game Review: Position Group Ratings

That’s more like it! The Tigers jump out to an early lead and swat the Florida Atlantic Owls 48-14 under the lights in Death Valley.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Clemson Gannett-USA TODAY NETWORK

Hello, folks! It’s that time of the week again as we take a look at the Tigers 48-14 win over Florida Atlantic last night in Death Valley and assign 1-10 ratings to each position group. It was great to see us put together a complete performance before Florida State comes into town next week. Let’s get into it!

Quarterback - 8

The Tigers’ main signal caller Cade Klubnik went 16-27 for 169 yards and 3 TDs on the night and put in his best performance of the young season. His deep ball to Tyler Brown to connect on a 30-yard touchdown was one of his best throws so far on the year. He did not get that many opportunities to air it out since the offense took over a couple of times near the endzone, but Klubnik was great through the air in short yardage situations, throwing two more touchdowns. I thought his decision-making was better on Saturday night, and he looked poised in the pocket making correct reads. He had a bumpy third quarter that almost resulted in some mistakes, but no turnovers this week is definitely an improvement on the last two weeks, so we will take that momentum into the Florida State game next Saturday.

Running Backs - 7

The Tiger running backs had another solid night as they combined for 130 yards and 3 TDs, with Mafah looking like the best of the bunch on the night. He had a 19-yard TD scamper where he patiently waited for the space to open up and burst into the endzone. At times, Mafah shows more patience than Shipley and is able to find a little more space because he waits for the O-line to create holes. That was reflected in the yards per carry last night as Shipley averaged 3.8 yds/carry on the night and Mafah with 8.4 yds/carry. Dominique Thomas punched in a TD as he continues to perform in his third-string role. Jay Haynes also impressed in his few moments with speed and decisiveness.

Wide Receivers - 7

The wide receiving corps was able to have their way with the Florida Atlantic secondary for most of Saturday night, with speedy true freshman Tyler Brown leading the way with 3 receptions for 49 yards and 2 touchdowns. The young Tiger stocked the highlight reel when he took the top off the defense on a deep ball for the first offensive score of the game. This type of play is what Tiger fans have been crying for about three seasons now.

Adam Randall tallied his career high in reception yards with 51 on the night. Antonio Williams, Beaux Collins and Troy Stellato all contributed as well; there seems to be more and more options growing in this position group – minus Cole Turner who is now out for the season. This receiving corps is not a polished product by any means, but the last two weeks have offered some hope.

Tight Ends - 7

The tight ends have not been a major feature of the Garrett Riley system so far, which has come as a surprise to me. Junior Jake Brinignstool led the tight ends with 3 receptions for 18 yards and a touchdown. He caught a nice jump ball on an RPO that looked like it could be very useful in short yardage situations in the future. Briningstool has great potential, and if he can play a larger role in the pass game, it would open up this offense even more. This group has blocked well for the most part as they are key in setting up a lot of the quick-pass game. I have liked what I have seen from true freshman Josh Sapp as well in his first couple of games as a Tiger.

Offensive Line - 6

The offensive line looked like they were a group missing their leader, as senior right guard Walker Parks was out with a minor injury. The Tigers were able to achieve over 100 yards on the ground, but they averaged 4.9 yards per carry on the night, which is their lowest through three games this season. Park has been described as the tone setter for the whole offense, so missing him was a blow to some of this team’s success in the trenches. The line did not give up any sacks, which is obviously a positive, but it is hard to not look at some of the individual mistakes in pass blocking and not think about FSU next weekend. Overall, a good performance from this group against another lesser opponent, but pass blocking needs to be tightened up for ACC play.

Offense - 7.0

The offense earned their highest rating of the season so far as they were able to get out to an early start and convert the opportunities the defense was giving them into points. Another major key: They had NO TURNOVERS this week, for the first time this season. The Tigers moved the ball well as they had a success rate of 58%, which is slightly above their 55% average for the year. In the first half, they were able to put together four scoring drives with some big plays on the ground and in the air. They experienced some frustrations in the third quarter, suffering two straight three-and-outs, and then turned the ball over on downs inside the FAU 5-yard line.

An encouraging sign from this group is they continue to bounce back no matter what happened the previous series. The Garrett Riley system through three games so far is definitely an improvement from what Tiger fans have seen the past two seasons. The offense has been able to gain more and more confidence in each game, and the performances have built off of each other. Hope is being slowly established in this group, and next week, we will see what has been improved upon since the Duke game.

Defensive Line - 7

All I have to say is TJ Parker is a stud. The true freshman continues to look like the best player on the whole D-line. He had another sensational performance with 3 tackles, a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. XT and Mascoll have played well at the end position but have not had the same disruptive impact as Parker. The D-line as a whole had their best game of the season, with a havoc rate (a play resulting in a TFL, pass deflection, or turnover) of 37% — for reference, it was 0% in the Duke game. The FAU run game was kept under 100 yards and they were able to pressure the QB most of the night. Davis and Ruke played solid ball at the DT spot, with Peyton Page and Demonte Capehart playing well in backup roles. If truth be told, I would like to see a little more disruption from the DTs. The sack numbers also not quite what I thought they would be from this group.

Linebackers - 7

The linebackers also factor into the havoc stat that I listed above, so in that sense, they had a good night being disruptive as well. The defensive leaders of Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Barrett Carter continue to top the tackle chart in each game, Saturday night included. Wade Woodaz was one broken tackle away from having his second pick six in as many games — read “ball hawk.” Woodaz has a knack for the ball and pops up in the right places at the right times. All that said, the jury is still out on if Carter or Trotter are true vocal leaders on the field. This defense will definitely need a leader on the field if they are to dominate in conference play.

Cornerbacks - 8

Nate Wiggins blew the roof off of Death Valley with a pick six on the first series of the game, and the Tiger defense used that play as a springboard for the rest of the game. Wiggins made a nice play on the ball and had the awareness to take it to the house. This unit as a whole has had a nice start to the season. Sophomore Toriano Pride and freshman Aveion Terrell were able to log a lot of snaps, which will only help with depth as the year progresses.

Safeties - 9

I am giving this group a 9 solely for the way Khalil Barnes played Saturday night. The true freshman played like his hair was on fire as he accumulated 6 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble on a strip, 2 pass breakups, a QB hurry and an interception. He was essentially a one-man wrecking crew that wreaked havoc on the FAU offense all night as he filled in for Andrew Mukuba in the nickel role. If I was Wes Goodwin, I would be finding a way to get Barnes and Mukuba on the field at the same time once Mukuba is healthy. I thought Jalyn Phillips played well too as he recorded a sack on a safety blitz. Great night from the back end of the defense on Saturday.

Defense - 7.8

The defense had a dominant night in Death Valley. They were able to get the crowd into the game with some electric plays, including 3 forced interceptions. FAU was able to find some space here and there, but they were never able to consistently put a drive together. Their points were essentially scored in garbage time as well. The secondary kept everything in front of them and allowed only 7.8 yds/completion, a season best.

Wes Goodwin has to be genuinely pleased with the performances of some of the true freshmen. Barnes, Parker and Woods are all pushing for starting roles after only three games. I would like to see them start against FSU because they have been the biggest play-makers on the defensive side of the ball so far this season. Overall, a great night, but I am not sure if many conclusions can be drawn on the 2023 defense until next week.

Special Teams - 3

The special teams have been below average this season, with miscues in the kicking game and in the punt return game. I thought Robert Gunn III had regained some confidence last week, but on Saturday night, he missed an extra point and shanked a 31-yarder that never had a chance. It looks like he is trying to kick everything like it’s a 70 yarder. We lost 4 points due to kicking, and Dabo Swinney knows those points will be crucial in future games. If this were the ‘80s, Danny Ford would be scouting the soccer team right now for a better kicker. Whatever happens, we cannot keep missing chip shots. Tyler Brown proved he was a freshman with a muffed punt one moment and a 44-yard punt return the next. He has been dynamic in the return game this season, but we cannot be muffing punts either. This group has a long way to go.

Overall Team Performance - 6.9

At one point in the first half on Saturday night, I thought to myself, “Are we back?” That question likely cannot be answered after losing to Duke and then beating up on Charleston Southern and Florida Atlantic. But I did have fun sitting in the North Stands on Saturday night. The offense has continued to improve, and I think that Cade Klubnik has actually impressed in his appearances when he has not decided to make the worst mistake possible. He played his best game of the season Saturday night, and he seems to be clicking with some of his receivers. Some explosiveness in the pass game is starting to show, and that can really inject some life into this offense. The goal of the last two home games was for this team to build confidence before the FSU game. I would say that has been accomplished.

Obviously, the true test will come when the #4 Florida State Seminoles roll into Tigertown next Saturday. This team has made significant strides since the week-one loss to Duke, but Florida State will be fast, athletic and lethal at each position and level. Clemson will have to play its best game of the season by far to upset the Noles. This Tiger team is capable of an upset, and the signs are starting to show this team is returning to a form Tiger fans are familiar with. But we will have to wait until Saturday at high noon to see if this team is ready to make that next step.

A personal note to fans who plan to attend Saturday’s game: Get your biscuits ready (I prefer Bojangles), get there early and BE LOUD. Let’s make Death Valley a place that Mike Norvell and the Noles do not want to return to anytime soon. No sauntering out at halftime and not returning until the 7 minutes into the 2nd half. The Tigers need you now more than ever – so let’s turn the Valley into a madhouse. Go Tigers!