No defense in the country has been as dominate as Clemson’s.
The Tigers rank second in the country with 45 sacks. They are second in the country in tackles for loss with 122. They lead the country allowing just 2.4 yards per rush and they are tied for second in the most important statistic of them all, scoring defense (13.7 points/game).
Of course, a lot of Clemson’s success comes from its defensive line where it has three potential first-round picks and another guy who is sure to be taken by the third round. In other words, Clemson’s defensive line is not just good, but it is great.
Led by award winners Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins, the defensive line finished first in the nation in havoc rate. Simply put, the Tigers had more tackles behind the line of scrimmage, sacks, forced fumbles and passes knocked down.
As Clemson’s defensive line goes, so to does its defense. When Clemson has struggled on defense, which has happened just twice all year—Texas A&M and South Carolina—the defensive line did not get to the quarterback consistent enough.
The Tigers allowed 940 yards and eight touchdowns in the two games combined.
In the A&M game, the Tigers were getting after quarterback Kellen Mond, but they could not bring him down. He was instead able to extend plays and then found holes in the Clemson defense which he exploited on a couple of occasions. Also, his wide receivers played out of their minds and all three touchdown passes came on 50-50 balls.
South Carolina had a different approach with Jake Bentley. It wanted to get the ball out of his hands fast and often. The Gamecocks up-tempo offense and Bentley’s ability to make quick and deceive decisions allowed him to frustrate the Clemson defense to the tune of 510 passing yards and 5 touchdowns.
The problem for Clemson in the Cotton Bowl matchup with Notre Dame is Ian Book is a combination of both Mond and Bentley rolled into one. He has the ability to extend plays and find open receivers downfield like Mond if things breakdown, plus he also makes very good pre-snap reads and makes quick and accurate decisions with the football.
Book is completing 70 percent of his passes, while his offensive line has allowed just 19 sacks this year. The Irish come into the Cotton Bowl ranked 12th nationally in offensive sack rate.
So, it goes without saying. If Clemson wants to move on to the national championship game, it has to get pressure on Ian Book and make the Notre Dame passing game uncomfortable.