By Heath Bradley.
TheClemsonInsider.com breaks down the keys to success for the 2012 defense. One of the keys for the defense will be creating turnovers.
Clemson forced 23 turnovers in 2011, the 23 turnovers forced was tied for 49th nationally. Thedefense intercepted 14 passes and forced 25 fumbles, however they were able to only recover nine of those fumbles. The 14 interceptions was tied for 31st nationally, NC State led the nation with 27 interceptions in 2011. The nine fumbles recovered was tied for 71st nationally. In terms of the ACC, Clemson was 7th in the conference in total turnovers gained; the Tigers were tied for 4th in both interceptions and fumbles. An outlying stat that can be observed is sacks. Clemson was tied for 6th in the ACC in sacks in 2011 with 24. A sack is a great opportunity to force a fumble; it can also show how much pressure the defense is getting on the quarterback.
If a defense can apply a lot of pressure, it will force a quarterback into quick decisions, which can often lead to interceptions. NC State and Maryland were both in the top four in the conference in sacks. These two teams led the conference in interceptions and fumbles recovered respectively.
Jonathan Meeks led Clemson in interceptions in 2011. Meeks intercepted three passes on the season, accumulating 58 return yards. Two Tiger defenders intercepted two passes, Rashard Hall and Bashaud Breeland. Seven other Tigers intercepted a pass in 2011. Ten players intercepted a total of 14 passes for the Tigers, of those 10 players; seven are returning lettermen in 2012. The Clemson defense lost Kantrell Brown, Kourtnei Brown, and Coty Sensabaugh, all who intercepted one pass in 2011 to graduation. Brown will be remembered for his two defensive touchdowns in one game in 2011. Brown intercepted a pass and returned a fumble recovery both for touchdowns versus UNC.
Of the 24 sacks recorded in 2011, 19 were by players who are no longer in a Tiger uniform. The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Andre Branch, who led the team with 10.5 sacks. Rennie Moore was second on the team with 4 and Brandon Thompson who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals was third with 2.5. Senior Malliciah Goodman and sophomore Stephone Anthony are the leading returners; they each tallied two sacks in 2011. While not accumulating a lot of sacks, the defense was able to pressure opponent’s quarterbacks quite a bit. The Clemson defense recorded 104 QB pressures on the season. Unfortunately for the Clemson defense, the top three players at pressuring the quarterback will not be on the field for the Tigers in 2012. All have exhausted their eligibility, leaving Malliciah Goodman the leading returner; Goodman pressured the quarterback 14 times in 2011. The next leading Tigers were Jonathan Meeks and Xavier Brewer with four each.
Pressuring the quarterback will be the key to turnovers for the Clemson defense in 2012. While the opportunity to strip ball carriers and force fumbles is possible on any play, the Tigers will put themselves in their best position by pressuring opposing quarterbacks. If Clemson can put constant pressure on the quarterback they will have the opportunity to force him into making mistakes. Whether the mistakes be him fumbling the ball as he is sacked, or throwing an errant pass for an interception, it all starts with pressure.
The young Clemson defensive line will be leaned on to become a force at not only stopping the run, but also getting into the backfield and making plays. If the defense can force opposing teams into situations where they obviously have to pass the ball, they will have the opportunity to wreak havoc, hopefully forcing turnovers. It will also be very interesting to see how Brent Venables uses the linebacker corps as a part of the pass rush. If the linebackers can get into the backfield and force the action, the secondary will have a chance to make a lot of big plays in 2012.