The good, the bad and the ugly from Clemson's win over NC State

Clemson pulled away late Saturday to beat NC State at Memorial Stadium.

The victory moved the Tigers into sole possession of first place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division with a trip to Boston College on tap this week.

Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly from the Tigers’ 30-20 victory:

The good Despite again playing without some significant pieces, Clemson’s defense responded to the previous week’s track meet with Wake Forest with one of its better performances of the season.

The good The Tigers held NC State to less than 290 total yards and 4 yards per play. Most importantly for Clemson, it wasn’t beat over the top with nearly the regularity that it was seven days earlier. The Wolfpack hit on a 32-yard completion, their longest play of the night, on their opening possession, but Clemson allowed just one more play in excess of 20 yards the rest of the night. 

The good Both NC State coach Dave Doeren and Clemson defensive coordinator Wesley Goodwin talked about the zone coverages the Tigers often implemented to help better protect a secondary that was again without veteran corners Sheirdan Jones and Malcolm Greene to injuries. And Clemson shut down NC State’s run game (34 net rushing yards), making the Wolfpack one-dimensional.

The good “In the third quarter, I feel like we kind of got into a rhythm just mixing in three deep (zone coverage), two deep or whatever coverage for the situation,” Goodwin said. “Our guys have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing. Thought we played really well.”

The good Clemson forced two turnovers, both coming in the second half. The Tigers used Toriano Pride’s third-quarter interception and K.J. Henry’s fourth-quarter fumble recovery to put the Wolfpack away, turning those takeaways into their final 10 points.

The good And because Clemson once again didn’t turn the ball over, the Tigers finished plus-2 in the turnover department. The Tigers have strung together consecutive turnover-free games for the first time this season and sit at 21st nationally with a plus-5 turnover margin on the year.

The good Offensively, D.J. Uiagalelei turned in another efficient performance. Clemson’s quarterback was 21 of 30 passing for 209 yards and a touchdown, but he was the most effective he’s been in the rushing department. He ran for a season-high 73 yards and two scores, including a 9-yard clincher on an impromptu naked bootleg late in the fourth quarter.

The good Uiagalelei once again got the tight ends heavily involved. Davis Allen and Jake Briningstool combined for eight more catches, including Briningstool’s 7-yard touchdown grab early in the third quarter.

The good And Clemson’s punt team was solid on a night when it needed to be. Thayer Thomas came in averaging 18.5 yards per punt return for NC State, but Clemson limited him to just one return for 3 yards. Aidan Swanson averaged 40 yards per punt with a long of 44.

The bad Finding fault in a top-10 win is a nitpicking endeavor, but Clemson wasn’t perfect Saturday, particularly in the penalty department.

The bad The Tigers were once again flagged often. Nine times for 95 yards, to be exact. That came on the heels of their 120 yards worth of penalties against Wake Forest the week prior.

The bad Two of those penalties – a targeting call on Andrew Mukuba and pass interference on R.J. Mickens – extended a touchdown drive for NC State late in the first half, one that ended with Devin Leary finding a wide-open Cedd Seabrough in the end zone. Swinney said it was a blown coverage, which is still an issue at times on the back end of the defense.

The bad While N.C. State’s top-10 defense had something to do with it, the running game as a whole was average, a step back from the production the Tigers had on the ground the previous two games. Uiagalelei accounted for right at half of Clemson’s output on the ground as the Tigers averaged just 3.8 yards per carry.

The bad And B.T. Potter showed he’s human, pulling a 46-yard field-goal attempt to the left midway through the third quarter for his first miss of the season. But the Tigers’ veteran placekicker redeemed himself with a 44-yarder early in the fourth and finished 3 of 4 on the night.

The ugly Scary, as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called it afterward, would be a better word than ugly here for Bryan Bresee’s situation. The Tigers’ star defensive tackle missed the game with a medical issue that’s not football-related but required him to be hospitalized last week.

The ugly Swinney said Bresee is “good” as far as the long-term prognosis, but it’s the latest bit of attrition that Clemson has been dealing with virtually all season. Clemson is still waiting on another starting defensive lineman, Xavier Thomas (foot), to make his season debut.

The ugly The good news is the injuries that popped up for Clemson on Saturday don’t appear to be serious. Offensive lineman Walker Parks and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter were banged up but re-entered the game. Mickens also went down with an injury, but Swinney said afterward the Tigers’ safety should be fine.

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