Matt Connolly

Report card: Strong start for Clemson offense

C.J. Fuller and Clemson’s running backs got off to a strong start to the season on Saturday.
C.J. Fuller and Clemson’s running backs got off to a strong start to the season on Saturday. USA TODAY Sports

Taking a closer look at the Clemson Tigers football team’s 56-3 win against Kent State in Death Valley in Clemson.


Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson each had success against an overmatched Kent State defense. The Tigers finished with 665 total yards, rushing for 373 and passing for 312. Bryant and his fellow signal callers were mostly asked to manage the game and get the ball into the hands of Clemson’s playmakers quickly, but Bryant did connect with Deon Cain for a deep pass and showed nice touch on short, intermediate and long passes. Bryant’s one mistake was an interception in the red-zone on a tipped pass, and he threw another deep ball up for grabs that was nearly picked, but overall Clemson’s quarterbacks played well.

Grade: A-

Running back

Clemson has four scholarship running backs and they all shined at times against Kent State. Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster averaged more than 10 yards per carry, and those two, along with Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller, rushed for a touchdown. The Tigers will have more of a running back by committee this year as opposed to last year when Wayne Gallman was the clear No. 1 option. The group is off to a good start.

Grade: A

Wide receiver

Clemson showed off its depth at receiver against the Golden Flashes with 15 different players catching a pass. Ray-Ray McCloud and Amari Rodgers led the way with three each as the Tigers went to the bench early and often while continuing to rotate guys without much of a dropoff.

Grade: A

Tight end

The Clemson tight ends were not overly involved in the game with most of their work coming on dump-off passes after play action. Milan Richard had a pair of grabs for 70 yards but fumbled the ball out of bounds while being tackled on one of the catches. Overall the tight ends did a nice job with what they were asked to do.

Grade: B+

Offensive line

Clemson did not give up a sack while finishing with well over 600 total yards. With that said, Bryant was pressured a couple of times in the first half but was able to use his athleticism to escape the rush. Kent State finished with four tackles for loss and penetrated into the backfield more than I expected.

Grade: B+

Defensive line

The Tigers recorded five tackles for loss with the defensive line finishing with 2.5. There were very few opportunities for sacks as Kent State did not attempt a pass in the first half and threw only five for the game. Clemson’s defensive tackles play well but the defensive ends did not do much outside of Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and Logan Rudolph.

Grade B


Kendall Joseph and company were solid against Kent State’s run-focused offense. Tre Lamar did well making the calls in his first start at Mike linebacker and his backup, Chad Smith, tied for the team lead in tackles with six.

Grade: A-

Defensive backs

The DBs were not tested at all as Kent State threw only five passes with none coming in the first half. Clemson held the Golden Flashes to one passing yard and one completion in five attempts. There were a few missed tackles in the back end of the secondary and there was also a personal foul, but overall Clemson’s DBs played well.

Grade: A-

Special Teams

Five of the seven kickoffs went for touchbacks and Clemson did a nice job covering the kicks that were returned. Will Spiers and Carson King each punted one time for 49 yards. The Tigers were not overly explosive in the return game with an average of 6.5 per punt return. The one kickoff return went for 22 yards.

Grade A-


Clemson was sharp on both sides of the ball and did not have any of the first-game mistakes that teams often make. The Tigers were expected to dominate and did while easily covering the spread.

Grade: A