When Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant decided to return to Clemson for one more year back in January, everyone expected the Tigers to have one of the best defenses in the country.
Reaching those lofty expectations can be difficult for the individuals that decided to return to school and for the unit as a whole. But, as second-ranked Clemson prepares to take on Louisville at Death Valley on Saturday, the Tigers are meeting those expectations and then some.
Clemson (8-0, 5-0 ACC) enters Week 10 of the College Football season leading the nation in scoring defense (13.0 pts/game) and rushing yards allowed per attempt (2.2). The Tigers also rank second in yards allowed per play (3.9) and tackles for loss (80).
They’re third in total defense (263.9 yds/game) and third down defense (26.2 percent), while they rank seventh against the run (91.6 yards/game).
“I think our defense has played well all year,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Ever since the second half of the Syracuse game, the Tigers have turned it up another notch defensively. After allowing 221 yards in the first half against the Orange, Clemson gave up just 90 yards in the second half as the Tigers rallied to win the game.
Since then, no team has reached the 300-yard mark in total offense. In the month of October, the Tigers allowed just 20 points (6.7 pts/game) which led the country. They also led the country in yards per play allowed (3.6) in the month of October.
So far this season, six of Clemson’s eight opponents have failed to reach 300 yards of total offense, and five of them failed to reach 250 yards of offense.
“I’m just really proud of the consistency,” Swinney said. “We’re playing great up front. I think our guys are healthy. We’ve been able to develop some really quality depth, and our staff does an amazing job.”
Led by Wilkins, Ferrell, Bryant and Dexter Lawrence, the Tigers’ defensive line has been as dominant as expected. Clemson leads the nation in quarterback pressures at nearly 50 percent, 20 percent higher than anyone else in the country.
The Tigers rank seventh in the country in sacks with 26, and that is despite playing three triple-option teams.
“I think three of our first four games were triple option teams, and then as we kind of got into the rhythm of our normal defense, I think that’s also been a factor, as you’ve seen our guys improve and become more consistent, especially on the back end,” Swinney said. “I think that that’s been a factor because we’ve played, like I said, a little more traditional offenses, things that they practice against every day, and I think that’s helped them to get in a little bit of a comfort zone and grow their confidence.”
Speaking of the secondary, Clemson has allowed just six touchdown passes this season (5th nationally) and has secured five interceptions in the last four games. The Tigers are 10th nationally in completion percentage defense (51.7) and 13th in passing defense (172.3 yds/game).
“I think we’ve been very consistent,” Swinney said.