ND-Clemson grades: Watson, Gallman fuel Tigers on ground

Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Saturday's Clemson-Notre Dame game.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

ND-Clemson grades: Watson, Gallman fuel Tigers on ground

Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Notre Dame-Clemson game:

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

– Drops and fumbles. Coaches and players can’t use the weather as an excuse, but it had an enormous impact on the Irish. C.J. Sanders’ (-2.3 as a returner) fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half and wide receiver Chris Brown’s (-1.3) late fumble at the goal line were defining moments in the game. Not to mention quarterback DeShone Kizer’s (-5.7) two fumbles that were recovered and Sanders’ muffed punt. The Irish also dropped five passes that traveled a total of 103 yards in the air. Wide receiver Corey Robinson (-2.1) added another uncounted drop on their first two-point conversion attempt that ended up being the final difference in the game.

– The other big storyline for the Irish was how little push they got from their offensive line. Right guard Steve Elmer (-3.1) was once again the main culprit. No missed block was bigger than his last one that resulted in the stop on Notre Dame’s final two-point conversion try. Left guard Quenton Nelson (-0.6) and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (+1.1) also struggled, earning their first negative run-blocking grades of the season.

– Linebacker Jaylon Smith (+3.1) and defensive tackle Sheldon Day (+7.2) continue to carry this defense. Smith recovered well from an ugly early missed tackle to lead the team with five stops, while Day was unblockable in the run game, where he earned almost all of his grade. The lone weak spot in Notre Dame’s run defense was inside linebacker Joe Schmidt (-7.4), who missed five tackles and didn’t record a single stop.

Top performers:

DT Sheldon Day (+7.2)

DT Jerry Tillery (+3.7)

LB Jaylon Smith (+3.1)

FS Max Redfield (+1.3)

C Nick Martin and LT Ronnie Stanley (+1.1)

Clemson Tigers

– Linebacker Ben Boulware (+4.1) was a nightmare for the Notre Dame offense. The crazy thing is he left a handful of plays out on the field with four missed tackles. The most impressive part about Boulware’s game was his ability to take on offensive linemen. On more than one occasion the junior was walked up on the line of scrimmage and even sent Ronnie Stanley flying backwards into the running back on a power run in the first quarter.

– As I mentioned before, the Notre Dame defensive line generally won the matchup with the Clemson offensive line outside of a few plays, but running back Wayne Gallman’s (+2.4) performance made them look a lot better. The sophomore repeatedly turned nothing into something. 77 of his 98 yards came after contact and he broke five tackles on 22 carries to keep moving the chains for the Tigers.

– It’s amazing that Clemson won after getting nothing from QB Deshaun Watson (-0.4) as a passer. After the first two drives he didn’t complete a single pass that traveled further than one yard downfield. His receivers didn’t exactly help him out with five drops, but the play-calling really took all chances to make plays downfield away from Watson. He was 1-for-6 on passes 10-plus yards down the field. Watson did contribute positively as a runner, however (+1.4 run grade, 4.9 yards per carry, 38 yards after contact and two forced missed tackles).

Top performers:

LB Ben Boulware (+4.1)

RB Wayne Gallman (+2.4)

SS Jayron Kearse (+2.1)

DE Shaq Lawson (+1.8)

DT Christian Wilkins (+1.4)

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

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