"Come fly with me" the 1957 Frank Sinatra song could have been the motto for the Clemson secondary prior to the arrival of defensive coordinator Brent Venables in 2012—now that has changed.
Prior to his arrival the Tigers gave up an average of 243 yards per game and allowed an astonishing 26 touchdowns through the air. Four years later under Venables watch the Tiger are currently ranked 9th in the nation in pass defense allowing 157 yards per game and have only given up six passing touchdowns. So, with the Tigers new found success defending the pass the Tigers secondary has a new identity.
"We just go by the name — we're just ‘No Fly Zone.' I mean, anything comes through the air, we try to leave with it. We go by ‘No Fly Zone,'" Clemson safety Jayron Kearse said Tuesday.
The Tigers secondary has morphed from one of the largest liabilities on the team in previous years into one of the strengths of the Tigers.
With a secondary that boasts NFL caliber talent at the cornerback position in Mackensie Alexander who is currently projected in the first round of the NFL draft, Kearse believes the biggest mistake teams are making in choosing to pick on junior Cordrea Tankersley.
"They're trying to attack him (Tankersley), but it's obviously not working for them," Kearse said, "So leaving Mackensie on the island, not attacking him, they're not benefiting from it, so I don't know what to tell anybody going up against us."
Tankersley's emergence this season has not come as a surprise to defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who credits Tankersley's hard work and dedication as the reason for his success this season. That success is not only validation for Tankersley but also for defensive backs coach Mike Reed.
"I think it's fair to say that people have thrown more his way and he's answered the bell, and good for him. Good for us," Venables said. "That was a big question mark there and I think what you've seen was he came out of the gate a little bit unsure of himself, and he's continuing to work and develop."
"The more success he's had has validated what coach (Mike) Reed is teaching, his technique and understanding his role and those types of things. His presence and his play-making ability and how he's come on has really helped the flexibility of what we're doing."
As the Tigers secondary becomes more and more dominant they now turn their attention toward NC State and a trip to the stadium that saw the Tigers last lose a game to an unranked team—35 games ago.
The Wolfpack have had a history of playing spoilers for teams boasting a top-10 ranking and hopes of a National Championship. Three of the last six times that the Wolfpack have faced a top-10 team, the team hasn't been ranked in the top-10 following the game—two games against Florida State and one against Clemson in 2011.
Kearse, however, does not see that kind of a let-down coming this season.
"We've got teams that are top-five teams and go out there and lose to unranked teams...Our last loss to an unranked team was 2011, actually at N.C. State. We're definitely not going to have that this year."
If the Tigers are going to get out of North Carolina this year without a loss it will be because the ‘No Fly Zone' has done their job against a very good quarterback in Jacoby Brissett.
Brissett enters this week's game as one of the best in the nation taking care of the football having thrown only one interception against 10 touchdowns.
"Watching Brad Kaaya last week through film, we seen [sic] he only had one interception, but we seen [sic] that there were like six interceptions dropped," Kearse said. "Getting to the film with Jacoby Brissett, I can't say I have seen the same thing. He's taking pretty good care of the ball. The throws he makes are one-on-one guys, and the defensive guys are not getting their hands on the ball."
"This should be a pretty good task for us on the defensive side of the ball."
TIGERS OR GREEN BAY PACKERS?
During his weekly teleconference N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren got frustrated with a line of questions from media that had him wondering if his Wolfpack team was preparing to play the Clemson Tigers or the Green Bay Packers.
"You guys are making them out to be like the Green Bay Packers," he said. "I mean they are a really good football team, but we have played a lot of good football teams. We played Florida State when they won the national championship. At Wisconsin, we played Ohio State and beat them when they were undefeated and ranked No. 1.
"They're good. They have good players. They have good coaches and they make plays, but, like I have been saying, it is going to come down to execution, not beating ourselves and making plays. If you learned anything this year when watching college football, anybody can win any game."