When injury plagued the Clemson defense Saturday, players emerged into roles they had not been in before – they suddenly had become starters.
One key player the Tigers were without was starting defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence after a lingering foot injury kept him on the sidelines. The sophomore standout had started the previous nine games while making 33 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble this season.
Last year, Lawrence was named the ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year after having a monstrous season that produced 79 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. Lawrence and fellow defensive tackle Christian Wilkins lead the front line and arguably is the best pair in college football.
But with Lawrence sidelined with a nagging ankle injury this past Saturday against Florida State, junior Albert Huggins got his opportunity to start.
“It was tragic that Big Dexter is down, but it gave me the opportunity to show the coaches what I have and that they can trust me to go out there and perform to the best of my ability,” Huggins said.
The junior from Orangeburg, S.C., stepped into his role, having his best game of his collegiate career, helping the Tigers in their victory over Florida State, while proving the depth of the Clemson team is infallible.
Huggins finished the game with four tackles, while recording a sack, 2 tackles for loss and 2 quarterback hurries.
His in-game performance against the Seminoles was his most impressive game of his career as he helped the defense hold FSU to 21 rushing yards while getting 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including five sacks.
“It felt good to have fun,” Huggins said. “A lot of guys, they think too much but I felt good. I felt loose and felt like I was ready to play and I had a good game… Now I just have to be consistent and do it the next game. Whenever my opportunity comes up, I just have to do it the next game.”
Even without a player as impactful as Lawrence on the field, there is so much confidence from the defensive line, which is not only physical and determined, but unselfish as well.
“That’s big, building that depth and trust in our guys,” Wilkins said. “I have one hundred percent confidence and faith in everyone that’s going to go in because I know how we prepare. The guys who have less experience are itching to get a chance for playing time to show what they got. It’s great to see guys get that experience in critical situations.”
Having trust in each other is something that helps the defense continue to be ranked in the top 10 nationally for total defense. With help from Huggins, Clemson was able to continue its domination of the Atlantic Division of the ACC for a third straight season.