The Clemson defense looks as strong as it has been the entire season after the fourth-ranked Tigers dominance in the 56-7 thumping of South Carolina this past Saturday.
Linebacker Ben Boulware, after having one of his best games of the season with seven tackles and two sacks, now leads the eighth-ranked defense in the country against duel-threat quarterback Jerod Evans and Virginia Tech.
Boulware said he feels like the team is focused and ready to go after the end of the regular season, especially after squashing the Gamecocks for a third straight year, erasing the memories of the five-game losing streak in the series.
“I think the 2014 team got tired of that, the 2015 team continued to get tired of it, and I think the 2016 team completely shut it down,” said Boulware.
While this Clemson defense is vastly different than last years, Boulware thinks last year’s defense simply got worn down from a long and grueling season.
“I feel like last year guys just got worn down and we kind of started sucking as a defense in the latter part of the season.” he said “The schedule wasn’t in our favor as players … the bye week definitely helped us out.”
This year the defense seems to have gotten its second wind after appearing to sputter after the loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 12. Over the last two games against Wake Forest and South Carolina, the defense has only allowed a combined 20 points and 415 yards.
Boulware says part of the solution has been the attentiveness of the coaching staff in listening to the players at practice.
“Coach (Dab0) Swinney is doing an even better job of taking care of us as players,” he said. “One thing the seniors brought up two weeks ago was helping us out at practice just doing shells, taking away full pads because it was the eleventh week of the season.”
While Swinney has always been known as a players’ coach, Boulware was still impressed he listened to the players when they asked to practice in only shoulder pads and helmets to stay fresh.
“We brought that up to him and he completely listened,” the senior said. “It was cool for him to listen to us and completely value our opinion.”
While the defense looks to continue its dominance against Virginia Tech this Saturday, they will have to pressure Evans (713 rushing yards) like they pressured quarterbacks in the last two games (seven sacks).
Regardless of the team they are playing, Boulware says the defense is ready to rumble and bring the ACC championship trophy back to Death Valley for the second year in a row.
“We don’t really care who we play. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, we’re gonna go out there and try to dominate.”