When Brent Venables came to Clemson in 2012, no one feared the Tigers’ defense.
The Tigers where a middle of the pack defense at best in the ACC, finishing ninth in the 12-team league after allowing 394.4 yards per game, even worse was the 70 points they allowed to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
In his first year as the new defensive coordinator, Clemson not did improve by much. In fact, the Tigers gave up two more yards per game than it the previous year. However, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU, the Tigers lined up and physically shutdown LSU’s powerful running game, holding those Tigers to just 99 yards rushing.
With a recruiting class that featured one of the best linebackers in the country in Ben Boulware in 2013, Clemson showed mark improvement as they gave up 40 less yards per game than the previous season and finished No. 24 nationally in total defense (356.3) and scoring defense (22.2).
Fast forward three years later and the Tigers currently rank 12th in total defense (312.9) and eighth in scoring defense (15.8) this season, and in between they owned the nation’s top defense in 2014, while the 2015 unit finished in the top 10.
Clemson will honor its four senior defensive players, along with all the other seniors, as part of Senior Day this Saturday against Pitt in Death Valley.
Venables said he could not have done it without a group of seniors who took to coaching and leaned on others to become one of the best group of seniors he has coached.
“There are not many of them, but what you love about them is you have seen all of them improve dramatically in their careers and have really plugged into what we have asked them to do,” Venables said. “They have learned from others, and it is really nice to see them now trying to mentor a lot of our younger players. We would not be here without them for sure.”
Like Venables said, there are not too many seniors on this year’s defense. Cordrea Tankersley and Jadar Johnson are the two seniors on the back end that helped the Tigers have a secondary that ranks third in interceptions (15) and second in touchdown passes allowed (5). They also rank in the top 12 nationally in six other categories.
On the defensive line is defensive tackle Carlos Watkins. The All-ACC tackle has 46 tackles, including 5.5 sacks. He also has seven quarterback pressures.
“I think it has been a reciprocal relationship with all of those guys. But we have gotten a little bit more out of them than we could have ever asked for,” Venables said.
And then there is Boulware, who is second on the team with 74 tackles, tied for third in tackles for loss with six, has two sacks, an interception and a pass broken up.
“Obviously, I have a deep connection to Ben. Again, he has been more than I could have ever hoped for when we recruited him,” Venables said. “He has been a model of consistency if anything else. He is very passionate.”