What a defense! The 2014 group was an all time great and the hopes of returning to the kind of defense we were used to seeing in Orange back in the 80's and early 90's were realized, at least for a season. STS reviews the season by checking out how we previewed each position group and how it all turned out.
First, here is the last paragraph of my position preview posted back in August:
Season Projection: Barring injury to Anthony, the Tiger LB corps should be at least as good as it was in 2013. I project the combination of Steward and Boulware to match the numbers put up by Spencer Shuey last season and for Anthony to get to 150 tackles. The X-factor is the SAM position, but I like the move of Travis Blanks back to SAM where he was more effective in 2012 (provided he plays and is healthy). Blanks going full time to SAM will allow for him to hopefully become a more every down guy at that position. This is essential when facing teams like UNC who will play with pace and keep you from using your sub packages. A healthy Blanks should supplant Burrell as the front line SAM with Wiggins and Martin Jenkins (whom I consider a corner and didn't discuss here) as the primary men in the nickel/dime packages. Clemson will need all of these guys due to the wide range of offenses seen in the ACC, not to mention what UGA and USuC bring to the table.
I also project two of the three freshmen to play from the Register, Rogers, and Joseph group. Their presence will be needed on special teams and for depth at MIKE, particularly. Venables said this after the first practice in shells, "I like all of three of our young freshmen – Chris Register and Kendall Joseph and Korie Rogers. All three of those guys have showed they have instincts and they are physical. They all move pretty good and have a good level of football intelligence and have good football size already. They have a bright future because they also have high football intelligence."
How it turned out: The call on Anthony was dead on as he produced a first team All-ACC season. His tackle numbers were not that high thanks to the dominance of the defense as a whole, so he didn't get close to 150 and finished with 75. He had 10.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 2 forced fumbles. Though these numbers are not crazy like what we saw from Keith Adams or Leroy Hill in their heydays, there was no doubt Anthony was a force and the greatness of his teammates around him didn't require him putting up much more. He was able to stay healthy and would have probably done a little more if not for that bogus targeting call that cost him two halves of football. The call that the Steward/Boulware combo would match the Shuey production was also pretty accurate. The two combined for 98 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 1 interception. After a shaky first game in Athens, both guys really improved and were forces for the defense. Anthony's backup in most games became Kellen Jones as Venables threw us a curve moving Goodson to SAM, but as we all know BV went with Boulware at MIKE in the bowl game when Anthony couldn't play the first half. It will be interesting to see where Boulware and Goodson call home in 2015 as Steward and Anthony depart.
The biggest miss was projecting the SAM position, mostly due to Blanks actually redshirting. That news was just coming out as I wrote the piece, but I didn't really think Blanks would be able to be held all year at that time. The main reason was I didn't forecast Goodson moving over or how good Korrin Wiggins would be. What was accurate was T.J. Burrell falling out of the rotation, but it was Wiggins/Goodson that did it (along with O'Daniel towards the end) instead of Blanks. It is going to be very interesting to see what the plan for Blanks will be coming back in the spring. Will he work at Robert Smith's vacated safety spot or stick at SAM/Nickel?
Not only was being able to redshirt Blanks a good thing, the staff was also able to hold all three freshmen signees. This was great news as most likely none would have been able to play significant snaps had the redshirt been burned. Now all three come into the spring and the race will be on to see who become 2 deep players. Veterans like Kellen Jones will have a lot of competition from these three and that should make for great spring battles. Whatever the case, the bar was set very high by Anthony and Steward. Coach Venables not only has been a terrific defensive coordinator, but his impact as the position coach for linebackers has turned what was a serious weakness for nearly a decade into a real strength. It shouldn't be a surprise that Clemson is in the running for major talent at this position on the recruiting trail.
Great job by the linebackers and Coach Venables! Here's a highlight for the road: