Last season, Clemson led the country in a statistic that the Tigers didn’t want to be anywhere near the top of — pass interference penalties.
The Tigers were called for 19 pass interference penalties, 17 of which were accepted for 207 yards. On top of that, Clemson committed 10 defensive holding penalties that cost the team 70 yards.
So, heading into this season, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney knew those numbers needed to be cut down substantially.
“It was just something we had to improve on,” Swinney said on Tuesday. “It was unbelievable. We were dead last. We led the world in PI’s, so it was an area that we really needed to improve, and we have.”
Indeed, the Tigers have. Through six games this season, Clemson has drawn just two flags for pass interference and zero for defensive holding. Both of the pass interference penalties came during Clemson’s 14-6 win over Auburn on Sept. 9, when cornerbacks Marcus Edmond and Mark Fields were flagged in the first half.
So, what changed? Well, boxing gloves have done the trick.
In fall camp and in one-on-one practice periods this season, Clemson has made its defensive backs wear boxing gloves, which have forced them to clean up their technique and use their feet to win matchups in coverage as opposed to their hands.
Swinney said it was his decision to have Clemson’s defensive backs wear the gloves, though he gives the credit to one of the most revered coaches in all of sports — New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
“It was actually my idea, but I stole it from Bill Belichick,” Swinney said. “So I don’t know if it was his idea or if he stole it from somebody else. I have no idea. But I figured he’s a pretty smart guy. I figured if it’s good enough for him, well heck, it ought to be good enough for us.”
Swinney doesn’t remember exactly how he found out about the Patriots’ use of boxing gloves, other than hearing it from the mouth of the five-time Super Bowl champion head coach.
“I don’t even know where I saw it. I either heard him — I think somebody asked him a question, and that’s what he said,” Swinney said of Belichick. “He said I put them in some boxing gloves, so we’ve done that all through camp and just in our one-on-ones and stuff.”
Swinney, though, certainly knows the unique training method has paid dividends by helping Clemson’s DBs learn to get the job done in coverage without grabbing the opponent.
“It has really forced them to have to win with their feet, win with their feet where they can’t rely on being able to grab, and really be able to play with the proper technique,” Swinney said. “So we’ve improved.
“And listen, you’re going to have some calls along the way. But after six games, we’ve made great improvement for sure.”