Clemson-FSU grades: Tigers’ playmakers fuel victory

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson struggles, but skill-position playmakers, defensive pass-rushers help lead to a close win.

| 8 months ago
(Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images)

(Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images)

Clemson-FSU grades: Tigers’ playmakers fuel victory

Clemson Tigers 37, Florida State Seminoles 34

Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from Clemson’ thrilling 37-34 win over Florida State in Week 9:

Clemson Tigers

Quarterback grade: Deshaun Watson, 63.8

Consistency still eluding Watson

Although the Tigers extended their unbeaten start to eight games, Deshaun Watson’s performances remain a notch below the level expected of a future first overall NFL draft pick — which is the type of expectation Watson had surrounding him entering the season. He threw two terrible interceptions against Florida State. The first was a dreadful misread he tossed straight to FSU’s Tarvarus McFadden, who barely had to move. Decision-making has emerged as an issue. After throwing 13 picks a season ago, Watson already has nine this year. There were plenty of positives passes from him in this game, too, including a beauty down the left sideline to Deon Cain, and Watson ultimately led a trademark comeback to keep Clemson in contention for a National Championship. But he hasn’t yet reached the lofty standards he has set for himself.

Top offensive grades:

TE Jordan Leggett, 86.5

WR Mike Williams, 83.3

RB Wayne Gallman, 78.8

WR Deon Cain, 75.8

WR Hunter Renfrow, 75.6

Full complement of playmakers gives Tigers’ offense added dimension

Clemson spent the first few weeks relying on contributions from depth players in the receiving corps. A hand injury to Hunter Renfrow held him out of action initially, but his return has come at the right time. He caught five of seven passes for 61 yards with a touchdown against FSU. Mike Williams has made an even bigger impact. He caught seven passes from 10 targets for 70 yards, broke two tackles, and secured the crucial two-point conversion on Clemson’s game-winning drive. The return of running back Wayne Gallman, after an injury against North Carolina State, was also crucial. Of his 84 yards, 55 came after contact. Gallman also broke a pair of tackles on his 20 carries, and scored a couple of touchdowns. Rounding out the group, Jordan Leggett chose the right week to show up. He led the Tigers with 121 yards on five catches, including the game-winning touchdown.

Top defensive grades:

DT Dexter Lawrence, 84.8

OLB Christian Wilkins, 79.5

S Jadar Johnson, 79.5

CB Cordrea Tankersley, 79.0

CB Mark Fields, 74.5

Freshman Lawrence continues his excellent play

Dexter Lawrence may be a teenager, but nothing about his game suggests the true freshman has a need for further development. He has wrecked ACC interiors week after week. Against the Seminoles, he generated two sacks, a hit and three pressures from only 24 rushes, accounting for almost a third of the Tigers’ total pressures. With the game on the line, Lawrence used a swim move to fly by FSU center Alec Eberle, bringing QB Deondre Francois down and essentially sealing the game. Lawrence also made an impact against the run, topping the Tigers with an 80.2 grade. The freshman has risen all the way to No. 6 in our interior defender rankings.

Florida State Seminoles

Quarterback grade: Deondre Francois, 63.1

Resilient Francois offers major promise for future

As freshman quarterback Deondre Francois lay on the turf after taking another big hit, the Seminoles’ chances of upsetting Clemson started to fade. Florida State had the lead at the time, halfway through the fourth quarter, but were almost certain to require more points to win the game. Francois missed only a couple of snaps, hanging tough despite taking a beating. He admittedly struggled in those situations, completing only three passes from 10 attempts for 42 yards and an interception (5.0 QB rating) under pressure, but was otherwise excellent. The result could have been so different, had running back Dalvin Cook held on to Francois’ well-located wheel route pass down the right sideline. Ultimately, though, this performance cemented his status as the Seminoles’ long-term future at the QB position.


Top offensive grades:

RG Landon Dickerson, 79.7

WR Nyqwan Murray, 76.9

WR Kermit Whitfield, 75.4

LG Roderick Johnson, 72.1

WR Travis Rudolph, 71.3

Ruble put to ruin by Clemson’s defensive front

Tackle Brock Ruble has been a reliable presence on the right side of FSU’s offensive line over the past few weeks. That all changed against Christian Wilkins and the Tigers’ ravenous front. In 49 dropbacks, he allowed a sack and four hurries. Ruble was also beaten on the game-defining sack that sealed the Tigers’ victory, and he gave up a number of other pressures that do not show up on the stat sheet, because of Francois’ quick release. Adding insult to injury, he also committed three penalties and gave up a tackle for a loss. The Seminoles will be hoping Ruble’s performance was just a blip, as they can ill-afford another liability up front.

Top defensive grades:

DT DeMarcus Walker, 83.5

OLB Jacob Pugh, 83.2

CB Tarvarus McFadden, 81.3

DT Derrick Nnadi, 78.8

DT Demarcus Christmas, 76.9

Pass-rushers find success against Clemson’s offensive line

Starting defensive linemen DeMarcus Walker, Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas all enjoyed excellent games against Clemson. Together, they recorded two sacks, two hits, six hurries and a remarkable four batted passes. Walker was typically monstrous, generating two hits, five hurries and two bat-downs. Depth edge rushers Jacob Pugh and Brian Burns also made an impact. Pugh consistently exploited Clemson’s Jake Fruhmorgen, managing four hurries from 16 rushes. Burns, meanwhile, had a sack and a hurry. The Seminoles’ defense is typically built from front to back, and this generation is continuing that tradition.


| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Dez E.

    No mention of Alec Eberle?? Brock Ruble was horrible, but Eberle has been garbage all year.