When Chip Long was asked about his first impression of Clemson’s defense during Notre Dame’s Cotton Bowl Media Day session on Saturday, the offensive coordinator respectively declined.
“I don’t want to give you my first impression,” he said. “They are awfully good.”
The Irish (12-0) has the tall task of trying to move the football on one of the best defenses in the country, while also trying to protect quarterback Ian Book. Long has the task of having to call plays against it and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
The Tigers (13-0) rank fourth in the country in total yards allowed (276.7 yds /game), third in rushing defense (92.9 yds/game), tops in yards per rush (2.4), second in sacks (46) and second in tackles for loss (121).
Clemson is led by its defensive front, which has three first-team All-Americans and another guy who was a first-team All-American in 2017. They are also very experienced, unanimous All-American defensive tackle Christian Wilkins is a three-starter and played a lot as freshman as well. Redshirt junior and consensus All-American Clelin Ferrell is a three-year starter at defensive end and is the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Junior defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, also a first-team All-American, is a three-year starter, while senior defensive end Austin Bryant—2017 first-team All-American—is a second-year starter, who also came of the bench for an injured Shaq Lawson in the 2016 Orange Bowl as a true freshman and recorded eight tackles in helping the Tigers beat Oklahoma.
“They are extremely talented up front and great inside,” Long said. “They are deep and play extremely hard. They are well coached and have a great scheme. You put all that together, and there’s no surprise when it comes to how successful they have been.”
At linebacker, senior Kendall Joseph and junior Tre Lamar our two-year starters, as is redshirt junior Tanner Muse at safety and junior Treyvon Mullen at one of the corner spots. The Tigers also have junior safety K’Von Wallace, who was a part-time starter in 2017 and a full-time starter this year.
“Clemson is a great opponent,” Long said. “The senior class is 53-4. It’s unbelievable. They are well coached and play hard. Our guys are excited. They have had a great bowl prep up to today. They are going to give everything they have.”
Long says his offense, which is averaging 33.8 points and 456.1 yards per game, is ready for the challenge Clemson’s defense will present. He feels the experience they have gained this year with their successes and failures will go a long way in helping them execute against the Tigers.
He feels his players on offense are excited and confident about playing against Clemson’s veteran defense.
“They’ve put in a lot of work to get to where they are,” Long said. “A lot of different guys have had to step up for us. They have the confidence they can play.
“We played in a lot of big games and games that went into the fourth quarter. They won and found a way to win. It didn’t always go their way.”
Things are sure to go the same way in the Cotton Bowl.