Brent Venables is the new HC of Oklahoma and won the first of many games this past weekend with the Sooners. During his ten-year tenure as the DC at Clemson, the defense was routinely one of the best in the country and led us to multiple national championships, ACC championship games, and top 5 finishes. We wish him the best and he will always have a place in history as the best DC to call plays for the tigers.
With Venables gone to his head coaching career with Oklahoma, we got our first taste of the 2022 Clemson defense under Wes Goodwin this past weekend. So let’s take a look at how the Clemson defensive position groups faired against GT.
What a coming-out party for KJ Henry. He was a terror all night long and I expect Sims to still be having nightmares of No. 5 coming for him early and often. What better way to set the tone of the game than the very first play from scrimmage to be a hit that results in an interception? He routinely beat the right side of that line like a drum and was in the backfield seemingly every play. This young man has paid his dues, waited his turn, and was arguably the best player on the field - and we haven’t even gotten to DT or LB yet which also had some monstrous performances.
Myles Murphy was quieter but played his role well. He still applied pressure, batted balls down, and probably was the best DE to set the edge. We know who he is and what he can do, as do other teams. With Henry finally becoming the talent we knew he could be, other teams are going to have a terrible time keeping these two from meeting at the QB.
Grade: A- (I gave this an A- more for the backups losing contain a couple of times allowing Sims to get free from some runs but that’s a minor complaint.)
We held GT to just 73 rushing yards at 2.4 yards a clip. The defense recorded 10 TFLs, 2 sacks, and multiple QB hits. This was mainly due to the beasts we have at DT eating up blocks, applying pressure, and preventing GT from doubling the DEs which helped Henry be the terror he was. We have 4 great players that we can mix and match at our leisure. They regularly re-established the LOS 3-4 yards backward and made life miserable for the GT running backs attempting to scurry up the middle. Bresee was unblockable so they decided to hold him all night, but he was still in the backfield continually. Davis ate up blocks as always and when Ruke and Williams came in there was very little drop-off. As long as these guys stay healthy then I don’t see an OL on the schedule that can handle them.
Nothing more to say here, these boys are good!
We seem to forget that Simpson, Trotter, and Carter are all first-year starters at their LB positions. Simpson was a monster last year for sure but he was at the SAM spot, not the WILL, and both Trotter and Carter were backups. It’s very rare for you to lose talent like Skalski and Spector and actually get BETTER at the position but that’s where we are. The speed of these players is unreal. Carter and Simpson were all over the field and you’re not going to be able to run away from these guys. There were multiple plays where they tracked down the ball carrier from the other side of the field, and when they hit someone, they made sure their target felt it.
Carter is as smooth an athlete we’ve had at SAM since we lost Simmons to the NFL. I don’t think he’s quite as athletic as Simmons (who is?) but they lined him up in multiple spots and he played his role perfectly. He led the team in tackles and was all over the field; Carter is only going to get better and that should terrify teams.
Simpson is playing like the 1st-round talent we know him to be. He took to the WILL position as if he played there his entire career. He was second on the team in total tackles and with the DL keeping the opposing OL off of him, he was able to prowl the 2nd level like a tiger ready to strike anything close to him. We didn’t blitz him as much as I thought we would but we know what he can do when unleashed and so will our upcoming teams. Barring something unforeseen, this will be his last year as a tiger and we should enjoy him while we can.
Trotter looks very comfortable in the MIKE position. He played his role well, finished 4th on the team in total tackles, and showed both strength and speed when they sent him after the QB. Very promising first start, the only knock was him not coming down with the INT on the drive that GT got their lone TD on.
Grouping both CBs and Safeties together here because I believe they deserve the same grade. On a whole, they played well considering we lost our starting two CBs and Nolan Turner. Mukuba is a force and set the tone from the very first play with that interception. He did give up inside leverage on that goal-line slant on 4th down in the 2nd half but he is the unquestioned star of the secondary and will only improve. I will say that tackling needs to improve, especially from Fred Davis. Too many arm tackles and not wrapping up allowed Sims and the RBs to get a few more yards than they should have when they did get some running room, which wasn’t very often. This group won’t be challenged in the next two weeks but will then have to deal with Wake and NCST. For their first outing, they were more than solid and there were no outright busts to point to.
I may be jumping the gun, but any fears of losing Venables negatively affecting the defense can be safely put away at this point. They didn’t miss a beat and the staff had a great plan going in. We’ve heard great things about Eason and Goodwin and if this game is a sample of what is to come then we should be well satisfied with their hires/promotions. You couldn’t ask for a better performance on the opening night of the season and we will need to lean on the D while the offense rounds into form.
In a surprising twist, it was the Clemson special teams that sparked the offense with a blocked punt and recovery. A few plays later Shipley walked into the endzone and the Tigers were in gear. They later blocked another punt in the 2nd half which also lead to points; the last time the Tigers blocked two punts in a game was back in 2007!
We’ve been used to Clemson playing it safe on punts and allowing opposing teams all the time they needed to get their punts away. We did that because we didn’t want to risk a dumb penalty and the coaching staff didn’t really care where we got the ball as long as DW4 and TL were under center. If this game shows the new philosophy then I am all for it. With the athletes we have, there’s no reason not to be aggressive and either get a block or a shanked punt to help the offense out. At the very least opposing teams will need to account for us bringing pressure.
The kicking game was excellent. Potter was perfect on kickoffs and nailed his two FGs while Swanson averaged 44 yards a punt! We may have a weapon at punter for the first time in a long time. Being able to back teams up and force them to try and march down the field on this defense is going to be fun to see.