The season did not begin the way Tanner Muse would have liked it to. The Clemson safety was caught out of position a few times and he missed on a couple of plays, especially in the Texas A&M game back on Sept. 8.
He rallied, however, and had six tackles against Georgia State and then three at Georgia Tech the following week. But, it was in the fourth-ranked Tigers win over Syracuse on Sept. 29 that the junior really came on.
He nearly intercepted a pass in the third quarter that ended a potential Syracuse scoring drive and finished the day with five tackles.
In Clemson’s 60-point win at Wake Forest this past week, he had just two tackles, but his second-quarter interception of a Sam Hartman pass led to a touchdown that started the onslaught.
“Yeah, I thought I had a really good game. I enjoyed it,” Muse said. “The game plan was a lot more adapted to me. I really like coming into the box, and I did that a few times in the short yardage package that we had.
“Like I said, I just really enjoyed it. I think that’s what you saw Saturday. Just the joy and the fruits of my labor fulfilling. It was good for me, good for my family, and good for Clemson.”
Muse’s progression on the football field has been good for the Tigers, especially a secondary that was much maligned following the Texas A&M game.
Clemson, who has the week off before hosting No. 20 NC State on Oct. 20, gave up 430 passing yards and three second half touchdowns to quarterback Kellen Mond. Fans and the media wondered if the Tigers have what it takes on the back end.
However, the Tigers showed much improvement against Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey, limiting him to just 250 yards and no touchdowns after he torched the Clemson secondary the year before. Then last week, Hartman came in as the reigning ACC Rookie of the Week after throwing for 241 yards and four touchdown passes on 15-of-17 passing the week before against Rice.
Hartman was just 7-of-20 for 74 yards and no touchdowns against Clemson, while the Demon Deacons went 7-of-27 as a team.
“We’re seeing more of the ball in the air on the back end,” Muse said. “We were so in tuned to the triple option with Furman, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech that it’s hard to get that game rep when you go to practice.
“When you’re trying to figure the scheme of things. I think we are really starting to find in our zones and in our man (coverages) how to play the technique and stretch that zone.”
However, the Tigers’ biggest test of the year will come against NC State. Quarterback Ryan Finley leads the ACC in passing yards (1,621), passing average (324.2 ypg), completion percentage (69.5) and is second in touchdown passes (10).
“There quarterback is a really good guy,” Muse said. “He’s smart. We tried to slow him down last year, and we didn’t.”
Last year, Finley threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns on 31-of-50 passes against the Tigers. Clemson did, however, intercept two passes, including K’Von Wallace’s game-clinching interception on the final play of the game.
“We did enough, and I think this year we want to not just do enough but do more.”