A key cog in Clemson’s National Championship run was most certainly its defense. That defensive unit ranked among the top 10 nationally in yards per game allowed (311.5) and in points per game allowed (18.0). Throughout the season the unit also accumulated a national best 130 tackles for loss and broke a school record in recording 49 sacks.
Playing at defensive end, Christian Wilkins’ dominate-on-the-field performance and vocal leadership made the junior the backbone of the defensive line. In 2016, Wilkins recorded 56 tackles at defensive end and racked up 13 tackles for loss, 3.5 of which were sacks. His versatility also allowed him to record 10 pass-deflections, setting the Tigers’ school record as a defensive lineman.
But all of those stats were from last year, now he is looking forward to this season, specifically Saturday’s season opener against Kent State in Death Valley.
“The first game is always really exciting,” Wilkins said. “Just really looking forward to what this team is going to be, what our identity is going to be. It all starts on Saturday. We’re going to put in the work every day this week, we’ve had a good summer, had a good camp, and now like you said, we get to hit someone else other than each other so that will be fun for sure.”
The expectations for the 2017 defense remain fairly high. Wilkins was quick to say this season’s defensive unit is just as prepared as last season’s going into the opener.
“I just know we’ve put in the work,” he said. “A lot of new faces, guys that will contribute, have bigger roles this year on defense, but also a lot of veteran guys. Guys who have experience playing in big games and playing period.”
As the Tigers prepare to take on the Golden Flashes, one thing really stood out. Kent State quarterback Nick Holley is athletic and he is quick. The senior moved from running back to quarterback in the middle of last season, passing for 868 yards and four scores and rushing for 920 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“We’ve faced some pretty good running quarterbacks,” Wilkins said. “But this quarterback is definitely pretty good. He’s pretty athletic. I’ve seen him hurdling guys and stiff-arming guys.”
Holley stands at 5-foot-10 so the defensive line will focus on getting their hands in the air in hopes of deflecting passes. But if Holley chooses not to throw, he can be dangerous on his feet.
“You also have to be alert for pumps and things like that because this is a running quarterback,” Wilkins said. “Just because he’s shorter, he’s also really athletic so if you get your hands up and he’s not throwing that ball, he can tuck it, run, whatever.”
All in all, Kent State’s offensive scheme seems simple to stop but Wilkins knows the defense must do its job in order to limit the Golden Flashes’ run game.
“If we don’t do what we have to do on defense, then they have a lot of fast guys on offense that can get the job done so we’re going to have to be on it this week,” Wilkins said.