Clemson’s defense led the ACC in almost every category statistically
When looking back at Clemson’s defense, it did exactly what we thought it would do. It was without a doubt one of the most dominate defenses in the country and it proved to be that way until the very end.
Nine times this year, the Tigers held the opposition to 261 total yards or less, including in each of the last five games. Only once did an opponent score more than 30 points and only three times did an opponent score 20 or more.
The Clemson defense finished the season ranked tied for first in sacks (46), second in scoring defense (13.6 ppg), fourth in total defense (276.7 ypg), fifth in passing defense (161.9 ypg), sixth in tackles for loss (109) and 12th in rushing defense (114.8 ypg).
Of course the Tigers led the ACC in all of those categories as well with the exception of tackles for loss, which they finished second.
I think it is easy to see what kind of grades the defense will be receiving.
Defensive tackles: A+
Was there any doubt what kind of grade they might get? It’s rare that a position group gets so much hype before the season begins and lives up to the expectations. But that is what Clemson’s defensive front did. Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence were dominant on the inside and Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant were even more impressive on the outside. Those four combined for 25 of Clemson’s 46 sacks and 45 of the teams 109 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. But it just wasn’t those four. Other guys showed progress as well, especially Albert Huggins at defensive tackle and Chris Register at defensive end. Wilkins, Ferrell and Bryant all earned All-American honors and were All-ACC selections as well.
After Ben Boulware graduated last year, there were a lot of question marks at linebacker. However, by the third game of the season, those questions were all but answered. Dorian O’Daniel emerged as the team leader and captain and also led the team with 103 tackles on his way to being named an All-American. He also recorded two interceptions, which he took back for touchdowns, the first linebacker in Clemson history to do that. He also had 10.5 tackles for loss. Kendall Joseph also had a great season, recording 90 tackles, including 10 against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. He also had an interception, which he recorded in the ACC Championship game against Miami. In the middle, Tre Lamar played well with 52 tackles and 5 tackles for loss, but J.D. Davis also stepped up and played well when called upon, as did James Skalski when he came in. Chad Smith was productive as well when he was healthy.
There was no more of a battled tested group than the Clemson secondary, which at one point had just three healthy cornerbacks on the roster. However, despite all the injuries and lineup changes, they still led the ACC and ranked fifth nationally in passing defense. Rarely, especially when healthy, did a team beat the Tigers deep. Trayvon Mullen came into-his-own at the field corner spot and played well at boundary too, while Ryan Carter was excellent in the boundary side at shutting down an opponent’s best receiver. Ask Virginia Tech’s Cam Phillips if you don’t believe me. Because of injuries to Mark Fields and Marcus Edmond, freshman A.J. Terrell got a lot of playing time in critical situations that will only benefit the defense as a whole in the future. At the safety positions, K’Von Wallace and Tanner Muse both grew and developed into better safeties, while Van Smith had another solid season with 62 tackles from his free safety spot.