For much of Saturday’s 31-14 victory over Florida State at Death Valley, No. 4 Clemson was dominant, especially on defense.
The Tigers (9-1, 7-1 ACC) held the Seminoles to 229 yards of total offense, including 21 yards on the ground, while collecting 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, and forcing a pair of turnovers.
Clemson’s defensive numbers are especially impressive considering the amount of injuries plaguing the unit. Usual starters Dexter Lawrence, Kendall Joseph, Tanner Muse, Tre Lamar, who went down in the second quarter, and Ryan Carter, who left in the third quarter, were all dealing with injuries Saturday.
This forced younger and less experienced players, such as Albert Huggins, Chad Smith, J.D. Davis, A.J. Terrell, K’Von Wallace, and Denzel Johnson, to step in and fill big roles in a meaningful game.
And that is what they did.
Head coach Dabo Swinney noticed the production from his younger guys and was glad to see his “next man up mentality” in practice.
“I’m just really proud of our team, all kinds of guys stepped up” Swinney said. “We’ve committed to playing these young guys all season and giving ourselves the best path moving forward both this year and into next year, and they’ve played well.”
Huggins stood in for Lawrence and played well filling some big shoes. Huggins harassed Blackman in the backfield, finishing with a sack, two tackles for loss, and a pair of quarterback hurries.
The redshirt junior was glad to have a chance to get on the field, despite the circumstances.
“It gave me an opportunity to show the coaches what I have and that they can trust me to perform” he said.
Christian Wilkins had high praises for Huggins as well saying he knew Huggins was prepared to shine on the big stage and was “one hundred percent confident” in his ability to step up.
Swinney was not the only person gloating about the young defenders filling big roles, defensive coordinator Brent Venables sang high praises in postgame.
“Whether it was Albert, J.D., or as you go down the list there are a lot of them, really proud of those guys” he said. “Everything they have been doing all year to prepare, they had their opportunity and were ready for it.”
The Clemson linebacking core entered the game missing Joseph and then lost Lamar at halftime. Davis started in place of Joseph and redshirt-sophomore Chad Smith came to relieve Lamar. Both played well and made a difference in the game.
Davis led the Tigers in tackles with seven, including 1.5 tackles for loss. Smith played well in coverage and racked up three tackles.
Davis says he prepares for moments like these in practice every day.
“It was great, I prepare to be the starter every week and I just tried to seize the opportunity and do my job” he said.
In the secondary Clemson has really been testing its depth. Carter got knocked out, literally, on a targeting call by FSU’s Emmett Rice on a third-quarter punt and Terrell rose up to fill his shoes in the second half.
The Tigers were already without Muse at safety and Mark Fields and Marcus Edmond at corner.
As the season pushes on and the “championship season” continues the Tigers will need young players to continue to be ready when the opportunity arise.