Second-ranked Clemson’s secondary was forced to play shorthanded in the team’s two biggest games thus far this season. However, the secondary didn’t miss a beat in top-15 wins over Auburn and Louisville the past two weeks.
Against Auburn, starting free safety Van Smith was unable to play due to a knee injury, while cornerback Marcus Edmond suffered a foot sprain on the first series of the game and didn’t return. Still, Clemson held Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham to just 79 passing yards and helped the front seven rack up 11 sacks by blanketing Auburn’s wide receivers in coverage.
Smith returned last Saturday against Louisville, though fellow starting safety Tanner Muse was ejected in the first quarter after being flagged for targeting. It ended up not mattering much, though, as the Tigers limited reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson to 118 yards passing through three quarters before he padded his stats in scrub time.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney preaches a next-man-up mentality, and that has been the case with the secondary. Sophomore free safety K’Von Wallace replaced Smith in the Auburn game and performed admirably in his first career start. A week later, freshman strong safety Isaiah Simmons came into the game for Muse against Louisville and recorded a team-high eight tackles.
Overall, the secondary’s depth has shown through the first three games with players such as cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen and Mark Fields along with Wallace and Simmons stepping in and making the most of their opportunities.
“We’re a young team, obviously, especially in the back seven,” Wallace said this week. “But we’re all ready to play.”
Heading into Week 4, Clemson ranks in the top 20 nationally in yards per game allowed (132.3) and opponents’ completion percentage (49.3).
In addition to depth and talent, Wallace attributed the secondary’s early season success to their preparation.
“Our preparation is like no other,” he said. “Isaiah Simmons going in and stepping in as a backup and becoming that starter and contributing, and him bringing us that W back there just shows that we have talent and we also have great preparation. Nobody is left behind here, and everybody’s going to be accounted for.”
After the 47-21 victory at Louisville, Swinney spoke about how pleased he has been with his team’s attention to detail and pride in preparation, and Wallace echoed those sentiments.
“It’s really our preparation, watching so much film, getting into the film study and coming together as one and watching film together,” Wallace said. “Just really learning our opponents — not just learning their plays and formations, but the specific players and what the coaches like for that specific player and everything. So I think it really is our preparation going into it and just knowing what to do and trusting one another and just being together as one group and playing as that one accord.”
After back-to-back victories in big games under the national spotlight, Clemson is preparing to face an unranked Boston College team that has started the season with a 1-2 record.
But the Tigers, per usual, aren’t viewing this Saturday’s game any differently.
“Coach Swinney does a great job of keeping us focused and envisioning that any team can be beat,” Wallace said. “You hear ranked teams being beat by D-II’s all the time and things of that nature. Anything can happen, so we prepare like the next game is the biggest game, and now we’re preparing like Boston College is the biggest game of the season because it’s the next game.”