There is really no other way to explain it. Last Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh was the worst performance of the year for the Clemson defense.
Everyone wants to talk about Deshaun Watson’s three interceptions, including two at or in the end zone, the offense’s inability to run the football with any consistency or the two short yardage calls at the end of the game which allowed Pitt to get the ball back and drive down for the winning field goal.
But few people are talking about the defense’s performance. The fourth-ranked Tigers allowed a season-high in points (43), total yards (464) and passing yards (308) in the loss to Pitt.
“Obviously, we did not play very well last week,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said during Wednesday’s ACC Coaches Teleconference. “We just have to get back to who we have been all year. We have been a very good defense and a very consistent defense. Last week, we did not play well and Pitt played outstanding.”
Lately, the Tigers (9-1, 6-1 ACC) have not been that consistent on defense. There is a trend developing in the last month that shows the Clemson defense is not nearly as good as it was at the beginning of the year.
In the Tigers’ last four games, they are allowing 396.8 yards and 23.5 points per game. Remember, those stats are including a 54-0 shutout of Syracuse two weeks ago.
In the first six games this year, Clemson, who will visit Wake Forest on Saturday with the ACC Atlantic Division Championship at stake, allowed just 282.2 yards and 15.0 points per game.
The Pittsburgh game also exposed a major flaw, the Tigers inability to cover the tight end or the running back. Of the Panthers’ 308 yards passing, 258 came from the tight ends and the running backs.
“For us to get back, we have to play with the type of eye discipline that is required and the technique that we have to have,” Swinney said. “Our effort was good, we just did not play very disciplined. We did not have the proper technique at times and we did not do some of the things we needed to do to help them as well.”
Then there is the shovel pass which went for 75 yards and two touchdowns on 13 catches for Pitt.
“It killed us. I would like to say we had a great week of preparation. We played that play every day at practice. They just lined up to it differently,” linebacker Dorian O’Daniel said.
And that means the Tigers will more than likely see more of the shovel pass against Wake Forest and South Carolina in the weeks to come.
“Teams study opponent’s weaknesses not their strengths and that was a weakness in that game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it again,” O’Daniel said.