By Will Vandervort.
Clemson’s defense lived up to its preseason hype as it led the nation in total defense and ranked in the top 10 nationally in nine other categories, while defensive end Vic Beasley was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
In all, four Tigers were named to the All-ACC First-Team defense – Beasley, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, linebacker Stephone Anthony and cornerback Garry Peters.
Besides leading the nation in total defense, Clemson also ranked first in tackles for loss, second in third down conversions, fourth in passing defense, fifth in sacks and seventh in rushing and scoring defense.
The Tigers led the ACC in scoring defense, total defense and passing defense.
So how did the Clemson defense grad overall?
Defensive line: A
No shock here. Before the season started a lot of people said Clemson had perhaps the most experienced and deepest defensive line in the country. And that was definitely the case. Defensive end Vic Beasley had another All-American season and earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors as well. The senior tallied an ACC best 11 sacks and tallied a team-high 18 tackles for loss. He also had a strip-sack and fumble recovery for a touchdown in the Tigers’ win over NC State. Grady Jarrett earned First-Team All-ACC honors and finished third on the team in tackles with 69, including 6.5 tackles for loss from his defensive tackle position. Reserve defensive end Shaq Lawson quietly had a good year with 40 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Defensive tackle DeShawn Williams finished with 52 tackles, 8 tackles for loss and three sacks. He also had seven quarterback pressures.
Senior Stephone Anthony was a beast again. For the second year in a row he led the Tigers with 87 tackles. Of those 87, 9.5 were for loss yards and he had 2.5 sacks. The All-ACC linebacker also had four passes broken up and an interception and had 11 quarterback pressures. Tony Steward had a very difficult career when it came to injuries, but he stayed healthy for the most part as a senior and he responded with a very good season from his weakside position. He finished fourth on the team with 68 tackles. He had 10 tackles for loss, including three sacks and a team-high 12 quarterback pressures. Reserve linebacker Ben Boulware had 52 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss.
Defensive backs: A
There were some questions on how good the secondary was going to be with so many new people on the backend, but there was also hope that an upgrade in recruiting would make a difference. And it did. Clemson led the ACC and ranked fourth nationally in pass defense. The only downside, they had just eight interceptions as a group. Safeties Jayron Kearse, Robert Smith and Jadar Johnson had two interceptions each, while nickel back Korrin Wiggins and All-ACC cornerback Garry Peters each had one. Smith ranked second on the squad with 76 tackles, while Kearse ranked sixth with 63 tackles. He also had five tackles for loss, including three sacks and seven PBUs. Freshman Mackensie Alexander had a very solid season as he became a pretty good press-corner for the Tigers and had four PBUs. Peters earned All-ACC honors by recording 51 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and a team-high 13 PBUs. He also had a strip-sack that led to a touchdown in the Tigers’ win over Louisville.
Special Teams: C
Kicker Ammon Lakip finished the year 19 of 25 on field goals and at one point he made 13 straight kicks. But he missed two of his last three kicks to close the season. His longest kick of the season was 45 yards. He was 5 of 8 from 40-plus yards. Punter Bradley Pinion averaged 42.5 yards per punt, but his net average was 40 yards. He had 16 punts go over 50 yards with a long of 60 yards. He also pinned 26 punts inside the 20-yard line with only two landing in the end zone for touchbacks. Humphries averaged just 6.2 yards on 28 punt returns, but he did return one for a 72-yard touchdown against Louisville. T.J. Green averaged just 21.0 yards on 20 kickoff returns as the Tigers averaged 18.5 as a team. Opponents averaged just 6.4 yards on punt returns and 20.6 on kickoff returns.