By Heath Bradley.
By Heath Bradley.
TheClemsonInsider.com breaks down the keys to success for the 2012 defense. One of the keys for the defense will be limiting big plays.
The big play, a pass, rush, or return that quickly shifts field position. Clemson had many on the offensive side of the ball in 2011. Unfortunately, they also were on the receiving end of quite a few as well. For Clemson’s defense to improve and help lead the Tigers to another ACC Championship and BCS appearance, the defense must cut down on the number of long gains and big play touchdowns that are given up.
In 2011, the Clemson defense gave up 19 rushes of over 20 yards and 40 completions of over 20 yards. Early on in the season the Tigers were able to “out big play there opponent”. However, as the season progressed, the number of big plays for the Tigers diminished while they seemed to increase for opponents. In the Tigers first loss of the season at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets used the big play to their advantage. The Jackets hit a long pass, as well as three long runs to help set up touchdowns on their way to a 31-17 victory over the undefeated Tigers. In Clemson’s second loss at NC State, the Wolfpack used the air to defeat the Tigers. The Wolfpack threw for 253 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hitting on three completions of over 20 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter.
In the regular season finale, South Carolina scored on three plays of over 15 yards. The longest came on a 49-yard Bruce Ellington touchdown catch in the 1st quarter. This catch gave the Gamecocks a 10-point lead, a lead they would never relinquish. Over the three games the Tigers lost in the regular season, they had given up 13 plays of over 20 yards. In those three losses the Tigers were only able to muster seven plays of over 20 yards.
The Tigers toughest task would come in their first BCS appearance. The West Virginia Mountaineers, one of the countries most dynamic teams on offense were the Big East Champions, with dynamic playmakers at quarterback, running back and receiver; everyone on the field was a big play threat. Unfortunately for all of Clemson nation, the Mountaineers lived up to their billing, racking up 589 yards of total offense. West Virginia tallied only one rush of over 20 yards, but 8 completions of over 20 yards, easily the season high given up by the Clemson defense. Tavon Austin did the most damage for the Mountaineers, scoring four touchdowns. Two were of the big play variety, 27-yard reception in the 2nd quarter, and a 37-yard reception in the 3rd quarter.
Overall Clemson did a respectable job at stopping teams from big gains on the ground. The four games that Clemson allowed the most rushing plays over 10 yards came against teams with running quarterbacks or that ran the option. The defense struggled at times to contain mobile quarterbacks, often allowing them to break the pocket for long gains at times. This led to Clemson having to commit more players to stopping the run, which led at times to long passing plays.
Brent Venables brings years of experience versus the spread offenses of the Big XII to Clemson for 2012. Venables has faced the best spread offenses in the country on a year-to-year basis, from offenses that prefer to throw it every down, to those with mobile quarterbacks. However, one thing has remained constant, Venables and his defenses have been successful every season.
We fully expect to see a drastic improvement in the number of big plays the Clemson defense allows in 2012. A new scheme, another year of experience for the secondary as well as the attitude to prove to the nation that what happened in the Orange Bowl is not Clemson football, will lead to a very successful season for the defense. Expect to see a much more consistent defense in 2012, one that does all the little things right, which tends to limit the big play for opponents.