By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Heading into Saturday’s game with fifth-ranked Florida State, Clemson’s football team has a lot of positives that fans can get excited about.
The offense has weapons galore. The defense has been suffocating and could be the best unit Clemson has seen in more than two decades.
The only thing that really concerns fans of the third-ranked Tigers is the very last line of defense: the safety position.
Sophomore Travis Blanks is one of those safeties, and he thinks the criticism of him and his teammates has been overblown.
“The safeties haven’t been horrible,” he said. “We haven’t been terrible. Yes, we’ve missed plays, but name a player who hasn’t.”
Blanks understands why the criticism has come to this point of the season. He knows people will look around for reasons to doubt the progress the Tiger defense has made in such a short amount of time.
Instead of placing blame, however, Blanks looks at the overall body of work that the third-ranked Tigers have seen from one of the nation’s top defenses. Because the overall results have been good, he feels a sense of accountability only to his brethren—an accountability that supersedes a singular position group or performance on the field.
“We truly love each other,” Blanks said. “It’s not just coming to the facility and practicing. We truly care about each other and we go out and play in a fashion that reflects that.”
For the most part, lengthy drives have not felled the Clemson defense this season. When opponents have scored, it has been the result of big plays. The responsibility to correct these lapses falls primarily on the safeties representing the last obstacle standing between a ball carrier and the end zone.
Out of the 14 touchdowns surrendered by the Clemson defense through the first half of this season, seven have come from outside the red zone—21 yards or more—and five have come on plays of 50 yards or more.
Blanks still looks beyond the stat sheet to the consistent level of play of Clemson’s defense. He feels more comfortable from play to play this year at safety than he did last year at corner, something he attributes more to the overall knowledge of the players alongside him than a position change.
“Guys know the entirety of the defense better,” Blanks said. “I do know what the linebackers are doing. I know what the other safeties are doing. I know what the corners are doing. Now I can communicate better with those guys.”
A native of Tallahassee, Blanks is attempting to treat this week’s matchup with the Seminoles like every other game. His hunger to hit the field extends beyond the opposition this week, as he missed a good chunk of last week’s contest due to an injury suffered against Syracuse.
“I could’ve started that game and played and all of that stuff,” Blanks said. “But the coaches felt like it was a better decision to kind of hold me a little bit.”
The coaches knew why they were holding Blanks back last week. They wanted their best crew on the field for the first snap of a colossal showdown in Death Valley this week. In spite of what detractors may think, Blanks will be there—not as a weakness, but as a strong part of a strong unit.