So far through the first half of the college football season, few teams have been as consistent on defense as Clemson.
The second-ranked Tigers, which travel to Syracuse for a seven o’clock kick on Friday, are ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense (5th, 11.3) , total defense (8th, 264.3) , fewest yards per play allowed (7th, 4.1) and sacks (3rd, 22).
“They’ve played really well and very consistent,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday during the ACC Coaches’ Teleconference with the media. “They’re a defense that takes a lot of pride in improving and correcting mistakes, show up to work every day, very coachable.”
But as good and as dominate as Clemson (6-0, 4-0 ACC) has been, Swinney isn’t ready to rank them just yet as the best he has ever had at Clemson or even then best in school history. However, he does acknowledge they have an opportunity to be one of, if not, the best if they continue to play the way they have.
Just two defenses stand out in Clemson history from an historical standpoint, and this year’s unit certainly compares to those two. The 1990 and 2014 Clemson defenses led the nation in total defense –the only times Clemson has accomplished a No. 1 ranking in that category.
The 2014 defense actually led the nation in 11 different categories and 13 players off that defense are now on NFL rosters – cornerback Mackensie Alexander (Vikings), linebacker Stephone Anthony (Dolphins), defensive end Vic Beasley (Falcons), defensive end Kevin Dodd (Titans), linebacker B.J. Goodson (Giants), safety T.J. Green (Colts), defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (Falcons), safety Jayron Kearse (Vikings), defensive end Shaq Lawson (Bills), defensive tackle D.J. Reader (Texans), cornerback Cordrea Tankersley (Dolphins), defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (Texans) and defensive tackle Deshaun Williams (Bengals).
“We’ve had some good ones,” Swinney said. “I mean, they’re right there with all those groups after six games. A lot of people have compared them to our 2014 defense, but to me, it’s hard for me to really compare a group that’s played half a season to a group that’s played and finished because you’ve still got a long way to go.
“There’s a certain mindset that you have to maintain and not grow weary from the preparation process and stuff.”
But with players like linebacker Dorian O’Daniel, defensive end Austin Bryant, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, linebacker Kendall Joseph, safety Tanner Muse, corner Ryan Carter and several more all playing at such a high level, there is reason to believe this year’s defense has an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of those other two great defenses.
“To this point, they’ve been outstanding and have answered all the challenges,” Swinney said. “And, again, very committed to doing what it takes week in and week out. So they’re right there with all those other ones we’ve had.”