Halfway through the season the Clemson defense has rebounded well after showing weakness against Wake Forest. Whatever the staff did to reclaim their focus, it worked. This was their best overall game of the year. They gave up no TDs, the DL was dominate once again, and the secondary looks to have started to grow up at the right time.
Let’s see how each position graded out.
Welcome back Xavier Thomas!
We sometimes forget that he came in with as much fanfare and expectations as Trevor Lawrence did in that recruiting class and was looked at as the next great pass rusher for the Tigers. For many reasons he’s never lived up to that potential but this was the year that both he and the staff affirmed his commitment to be great. It was disheartening seeing him injured before the year began but he stayed positive and was finally unleashed against BC. He played only 6 snaps but in those snaps he compiled a gaudy stat line - 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries and a forced fumble. We’ve been waiting for the fully weaponized version of our DL and getting Thomas back is big step forward. Can’t wait to see what he does with more PT on the way.
Miles Murphy has to finish off plays! There were at least two potential sacks that Phil Jurkovec got out of because Murphy didn’t bring him down. With Henry’s continued improvement and a healthy Thomas back, Henry needs to step up or be regulated to the 2nd string.
Speaking of Henry, he was once again active this game. He got into the backfield and was credited with 7 QB hurries in just 26 snaps. Henry has been the most consistent DE this year and has elevated his play to match the 5 star rating he had in HS. Thomas returning will give Henry even more opportunities to use his speed and power to disrupt the QB and watching the two of them try an meet up in the backfield will be fun to see.
The Clemson run defense is currently ranked 2nd best in the country due in large part to the absurd depth and talent that we have a DT. Even with Breese out of the lineup the DL held BC to only 34 yards on the ground. The amount of talented players we have at this position is absurd and they have been the most consistent position group of the entire team so far this year.
All of the DTs played well but a special shout out needs to be sent to Tre Williams. Like Thomas, he’s battled injury this year but kept working and pushing to play. He logged 26 snaps this game and was a force in the middle with the 3rd most tackles this game and a sack. Tyler Davis is the unquestioned leader of the DT group. The DL just looked and plays different with No. 13 is pushing the pocket and eating up double teams. He was 5th on the team this game in total tackles.
Ruke Orhorhoro has elevated his play and looks like a future NFL player. Payton Page, Etinosa Reuben and Demonte Capeheart have been logging more snaps as the year has progressed and they are all quality depth players that looks to be primed to battle for starting spots once the upperclassmen graduate/move on to the NFL in the next year or so.
Once Breese returns we can go 7 deep at DT and all of them range from good to elite players. Enjoy this because it’s not common!
The LB group continues to grow in both experience and depth. The DL gets a lot of credit for Clemson elite run defense but the LBs are just as worthy of praise. Screen plays are basically non starters for opponents at this point in the year due to the play of our starters at LB.
Barrett Carter continues his rise to superstar. He logged a sack, 3 QB hurries, a forced fumble and was tied with the 2nd most tackles this game. Carter is also improving his role when dropping into coverage. His mental progression is matching up with his athleticism and that’s a problem for the teams in the second half of the season.
Trenton Simpson lead the team in tackles and is making a habit of sniffing out the ball carrier and putting them on the ground. Like Carter, he’s grown into his role at the WILL position and is being fully unleashed. Jeremiah Trotter Jr. is also improving every game and had 1.5 TFL this game.
Keith Maguire and LaVonta Bentley continue to spell the starters and increase their snap count. There is some drop off when they come in but that’s moreso because the starters are playing excellently while they are only playing great.
This group is becoming the best in the ACC and their ability to make teams one dimensional is going to continue to play huge dividends in the coming games.
The injury bug continues to plague the secondary. Clemson was once again without Malcolm Greene and Sherdian Jones this game. We also lost Tyler Venables due to a moped accident and RJ Mickens due to the hit he took in the NC ST game. This left the staff with having to rely on Phillips and Mukuba at safety and the much maligned Wiggins, Davis and Pride at CB. BC has not been a great offensive team this year but they do have one of the best WRs in the country in Zay Flowers and given time Jurkovec can make plays.
Were we going to see a repeat of the Wake Forest debacle?
Thankfully that didn’t come to pass. This young secondary has truly turned things around after that poor performance against the Demon Deacons and held BC to only 220 passing yards and no TDs. Despite some short fields handed to BC in the 1st half, the secondary never panicked and continued to play solid and fundamentally sound FB. They played so well in the 1st half that Goodwin was comfortable enough to switch from the two deep safety look and go more single high to send pressure after BC. That doesn’t happen if the DBs couldn’t prove they could hold up in pass defense.
Nate Wiggins is the player in the secondary with the most moxy. It can get him into trouble if he can’t control himself like against Wake but he’s improved his play and had a beautiful pass breakup on BC’s only pass play for a potential TD. As his confidence improves so will he and so far it looks like the fire of the Wake game and forged him into a better player.
It was good to see Fred Davis return to the lineup this week after not playing, outside of ST, against NC ST. He looked solid and will be called upon to provide quality snaps in the 2nd half of the year. Toriano Pride is turning into a reliable player. Teams will continue to test him to see if they can get cheap and easy plays against the true freshman but he’s handled the pressure well and looks to have solidified his hold one on CB spot.
The offense put the defense in some tough spot in the 1st half. BC had a number of short field opportunities but came up short. I believe there is a stat that BC entered the RZ four times but came away with only 3 points. That’s due to the defense not panicking and playing their role.
We took away BC’s running attack early in the game. Once they proved they couldn’t truly hurt us in the secondary, due to the improved play of our DBs, Goodwin switch to a single high look and sent extra pressure against BC. This effectively ended any hope for an upset especially once the offense got their act together and began stringing together scoring drives.
Clemson currently ranks 7th in the country in TFL per game, 2nd in rush defense, 24th in total defense, and 26th in scoring defense. The passing defense still needs work at 95th but it’s actually improved from where it was after the Wake Forest game, unsurprisingly. This defense is starting to exert its dominance as we assumed it would be able to at the start of the year. Injuries and youth especially in the secondary has caused them some bumps in the road but they have responded well and that speaks to Goodwin’s control of the locker room and the player’s responding to him well.
The special team’s play was rough this game. Potter missed his 2nd FG of the year. Swanson once again only averaged 41 yards a punt. Taylor put the ball on the ground twice in punt returns and looks to have lost his spot to A. Williams. On an positive note, we also blocked another FG and are currently tied for 3rd in nation. It’d be nice to see more aggression on punts as well but the staff is probably playing it safe so we don’t have a dumb penalty with the way the offense has been performing.
What Grade do you give the Clemson Defense and ST against BC?
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