Defense has some things to clean up

Sep 3, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Clemson Tigers defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (42) celebrates his fumble recovery with safety Jadar Johnson (18) during the third quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

From a defensive standpoint, there isn’t too much No. 2 Clemson can be disappointed in as it preps for Saturday’s home opener against Troy.

Despite having seven new starters, the Tigers looked like the same defense that has been ranked in the top 10 nationally in each of the last three years. Clemson held Auburn to 262 total yards, had four sacks, had 14 tackles for loss and forced three turnovers.

They even held Auburn’s powerful rushing attack under 100 yards as the SEC’s Tigers totaled 87 yards on 41 carries.

Not a bad start for basically what was a brand new defense from a personnel standpoint.

“Once again, they played really well. And again, we didn’t really know. We had a good base plan and we had kind of Plan A, Plan B, of different things that we could see, but they did a heck of a job,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We had a couple of things from just an alignment standpoint, eye distance standpoint where we weren’t quite where we needed to be, but the overall discipline that we played with was very good.

“I think we only had just three or four mental errors, which is way down from last year in our opener, so I was very impressed with that. I was very pleased with some of the guys that I thought would play well like Christian (Wilkins), like Clelin (Ferrell), like Kendall Joseph, like Jadar Johnson, like Van Smith.”

The Tigers (1-0) need all of them to play well again this Saturday. Though some might think Troy is a pushover, the Trojans are loaded on offense. They gained 706 yards in their victory over Austin Peay as they rolled to a 57-7 victory.

Troy  (1-0) runs a no-huddle attack up-tempo attack, similar to Texas Tech. Quarterback Brandon Silver completed 20 of 29 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

Silver and the passing game is what has Swinney concerned. Though the Tigers played well, there were a couple of mental lapses late in the Auburn game that could have cost them a victory.

“The two biggest issues they had were nine minutes to go, you’re up two touchdowns, and we bust cover three because our middle safety wants to come make a play that’s not his job, and so that is where we have to grow as a defense,” Swinney said. “That got us in trouble last year. We would get undisciplined at times, especially when we had leads and that is where we have to improve.”

Johnson was the safety Swinney was talking about as he got caught peeking in the backfield. Before he realized it the Auburn wide receiver was blowing past him for a 42-yard gain.

“That led to a huge play, and that might be the only mistake that Jadar had, but again, Jadar played great,” Swinney said.

Johnson was called for a pass interference penalty two players later, but finished the game with five tackles, one interception and broke up two passes – the two Hail Mary’s at the end of the game.

“Sometimes these guys get so competitive and that’s a good thing but you have to stay disciplined,” Swinney said. “When you’re a three-deep safety, you’re the 11th guy at the party, you aren’t breaking on anything until that ball is five yards past the line of scrimmage so that’s was very disappointing because that’s a discipline mistake.

“It wasn’t a competitive play or anything like that. Sometimes guys just make plays. Those are things that we have to improve on.”

The other key mistake came on Auburn’s touchdown drive late in the game. Linebacker Ben Boulware was charged with a roughing the passer penalty after he hit Auburn quarterback Sean White out of bounds.

“Fourth-and-ten and Ben (Boulware) hits the quarterback out of bounds. Just incredibly disappointing and then they score on the next play. Those are the things that we have to eliminate defensively,” Swinney said. “Other than that, they played very well and I am very proud of them.”


— Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

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