Clelin Ferrell is the kind of guy who likes to play with the defensive ends on a Madden video game instead of other positions.
“It’s all about getting the quarterback,” the defensive end said with a smile on Monday.
Well, that’s the name of the game for Ferrell and the Tigers’ defensive line in real life, too, and it’s a game they’ve seemed to master this season.
Clemson’s defensive line has been relentless through eight games, and Clemson is tied for second in the nation with 31 sacks, one shy of Alabama’s 32. Clemson also ranks third nationally with 73 tackles for loss.
Ferrell, a redshirt freshman, is second on the team with four sacks and third with six tackles for loss.
To Ferrell, getting to the quarterback this year has felt virtually effortless, and he credited that feeling to the play of Clemson’s interior defensive linemen.
Led by senior Carlos Watkins’ 4.5 sacks, Clemson’s defensive tackles have combined for 16 sacks.
“The amount of pressure that the guys inside are giving us is amazing,” Ferrell said. “It’s crazy because when you push the pocket like that, that demoralizes the pocket.
“It basically pushes the quarterback right back into the defensive end’s hands, so when you kill that, it’s like playing Madden out there. It’s easy for us, so that’s a big help for us this year, definitely.”
Clemson netted a season-high six sacks and had 10 tackles for loss in the 37-34 win over Florida State last Saturday in Tallahassee.
Two of the sacks came on Florida State’s final possession, when Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence combined for a sack on third and long before Ben Boulware finished off the Seminoles with a sack of his own.
Ferrell said dialing up the heat on athletic Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois and Florida State’s suspect offensive line was the game plan for Clemson going in.
“It’s one of the things that we knew we had to do coming into the game playing in an environment like that,” said Ferrell, who had four tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack against the Seminoles. “The crowd was going to be behind them, so any chance we got to silence the crowd and affect the quarterback was huge, and that’s what we did.”
It will be more difficult to generate the same amount of pressure against Syracuse’s up-tempo offense on Saturday, though. The Orange will try to neutralize Clemson’s pass rush by getting the ball out of quarterback Eric Dungey’s hands quickly.
“It’s the fastest offense we’ve seen,” Ferrell said. “They go as fast as the Oregon offense from a couple of years ago. The ball is coming out hot. Most of their coaching staff comes from Bowling Green, they believe in what they do, they feel like they have a good plan and it’s been working for them, so it’s going to be a tough matchup for us defensively.”
Seven different Clemson defensive linemen have collected at least two sacks this season, and five of them have at least three.
Ferrell doesn’t care who gets them, however. He just wants the Tigers to keep doing what they’re doing up front.
“Hopefully we get more than anybody else in the country as a team and as a defense,” Ferrell said. “Coaches say we play to win and the sacks will come. As long as we’re winning, that’s all that matters to me.”