It starts with Wilkins, D-line


Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins has a lot of support back home, to say the least.

The native of Springfield, Mass., played in his home state last Friday at Boston College, and well over 100 family members and friends showed up to see him.

“I got about 80, 90 tickets or so, and then about another 50, 60 people got tickets, just buying them themselves,” Wilkins said on Tuesday. “So, I had about 150 people there, which was real neat. Everyone came out and showed a lot of love, which felt real good, for sure.”

Wilkins put on a good show for those in attendance who came to watch him. The sophomore notched four tackles, a sack and team-high two tackles for loss in Clemson’s 56-10 victory.

And he did all of that in less than three quarters. Late in the third, Wilkins suffered a minor ankle sprain that kept him out of action for the rest of the game. He was in a boot on the sideline for precautionary reasons, but has practiced without it all week and will play without limitation on Saturday against N.C. State.

“Just got rolled up on,” Wilkins said of his ankle. “A little friendly fire from Chad (Smith), but it’s all right. It’s all good now.”

Heading into Saturday’s game, Clemson’s defense ranks among the nation’s top 10 in eight major statistical categories, including total defense (9th, 282.2 yards per game), pass defense (6th, 149 yards per game), scoring defense (8th, 15.0 points per game) and total touchdowns allowed (8th, 10).

The success starts up front with Clemson’s defensive line. The Tigers are tied for fifth in the country with 9.3 tackles for loss per game, and are tied for sixth with 21 total sacks on the season.

Wilkins has led the way for Clemson in the trenches. The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and is tied for first with three sacks. He is also fifth on the team with 35 total tackles.

Wilkins said N.C. State’s offensive line was one of the better ones Clemson faced last season, when the Tigers allowed 41 points in what head coach Dabo Swinney called their worst defensive performance of the season.

“What he said is accurate,” Wilkins said. “We didn’t play good against them at all. Good thing our offense was on point that day, or else we might have taken a loss. Just looking back at it, there’s a lot of ways we can improve. We can get a lot better and put on definitely a better performance this year.””

The Wolfpack return a pair of starters from last year’s team on the offensive line, which has been a stout group so far in 2016. N.C. State has given up just five sacks in five games.

Clemson’s defensive line has been critical to the defense’s success this season, and Wilkins knows the importance of another strong performance by the unit on Saturday.

“They have a good, strong, solid O-line, and we’re going to have to be ready to play a physical, tough, competitive game if we want to win,” Wilkins said. “It starts up front. It starts with the guys on the D-line, and we’re just going to have to put together a good game for four quarters and be as physical as possible.”

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