By Heath Bradley
CLEMSON – Sometimes it only takes one play to change the course of a career in football.
After his performance in the previous game versus Georgia Tech, in which he made the play of the game to record a safety, and the way he has practiced heading into Saturday’s matchup against Virginia Tech, Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey was given the nod to start at middle linebacker in the 13th-ranked Tigers’ 38-17 victory.
Shuey did not disappoint, either. The junior was once again a factor in making plays in the opponent’s backfield, totaling nine tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss.
Following Shuey’s performance, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was quick to praise him, saying he earned the opportunity.
“We played him based on his performance against Georgia Tech and believe he earned the starting position,” Swinney said.
For Shuey, he credits the work he has put in on the practice field over the past two weeks for the success he had against the Hokies.
“I have prepared for the last two weeks. I got a head start on preparing for Virginia Tech,” he said. “I was confident with our scheme going into the game and was able to make some plays.”
For the second straight week Shuey has provided a spark for the Clemson defense.
“It is nice. Preparing and working hard each week has been paying off,” he said.
In each of the past two weeks the Clemson defense has been able to come up with big stops during the second half. One of the big keys for the Tigers has been their ability to put more pressure on the quarterback.
In the second half, especially, Saturday, Clemson (6-1, 3-1 ACC) was able to put a lot of pressure on Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. The Tigers recorded two sacks and had six quarterback pressures.
“They had some big stops in the second half,” Swinney said. “They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, which caused some hesitancy on his part and forced him to throw off target.”
Shuey and the defense also kept the Virginia Tech running game at bay for the most part. J.C. Coleman, who had 183 against Duke last week, rushed for only 19 yards and no Hokie running back gained more than 29 yards. Thomas did rush for 99 yards, but most of his run came on scrambles.
“We have said it all along that we have well enough players to play good quality defense,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Now, we certainly have not arrived, but I’m happy for our guys because we had a lot of success and we played well enough to come up with some huge plays and make some huge stops.”
And with Shuey possibly solidifying the middle linebacker position, maybe the defense is finally turning the corner at being a more consistent group.
“We continue to get better and better every week,” Shuey said. “This week was the time that our offense wasn’t what it has been the last couple of weeks, but the defense was able to step up, make some plays and give them the ball back so they could have more opportunities.
“As for me, I did not play perfect. I made some plays that came my way and I did my job holding my gap down. Whatever plays came my way, I tried to make. Obviously, I messed up a few times, but I just have to watch the film and learn from it.”