When most media and college football fans around the country talk about Clemson, they usually talk about the great athletes the Tigers have recruited on the offensive side of the ball under head coach Dabo Swinney.
It makes sense. Look at all the NFL stars Clemson has produced on offense through the years … C.J. Spiller, Dwayne Allen, Deandre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Adam Humphries and Deshaun Watson to name a few.
However, Clemson is more than an offensive juggernaut. It also can play defense.
The Tigers’ defense has produced just as many defensive stars in the NFL under Swinney. Grady Jarrett, Vick Beasley, Shaq Lawson, Andre Branch, Jarvis Jenkins, Carlos Watkins, D.J. Reader and Dorian O’Daniel are just some who have had very good careers at the next level.
Ever since Swinney brought on Brent Venables to coach his defense in 2012, Clemson has produced one of the more productive and consistent defenses in the country.
“The most dominant defenses at any level, we are talking pee wee to the NFL, they want to dictate game play and Brent Venables does as good of a job as any defensive coordinator in the country in trying to dictate what offenses are trying to do,” ESPN analyst Marcus Spears said Wednesday on College Football Live.
Since 2014, Clemson has ranked every year in the top 10 in total defense and has ranked in the top 5 in each of the last three years. Clemson has also ranked in the top 5 in scoring defense the last three seasons and in the top 10 in four of the last five years.
When it comes to tackles for loss and sacks, no one has been better than the Tigers in the last six seasons.
“The thing is (Venables) mantra is ‘pressure breaks pipes.’ If there is going to be a mistake, it is going to be going forward, attacking that offense and that is one of the things that makes him so great,” ESPN analyst Trevor Matich said. “That athleticism is unleashed in an attacking scheme and even though they have to replace a lot of guys in the front seven, they still have star power.”
The Tigers have to replace All-Americans Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant on the defensive line, along with Tre Lamar at middle and Kendall Joseph at weakside linebacker.
But Matich says there is no need for Clemson fans to worry.
“Xavier Thomas is a defensive end with the speed of a running back. Isaiah Simmons is already a super star at outside linebacker,” he said. “These are guys that are able to step into these rolls and continue the attack. That is part of the fun of watching this Clemson defense, they continue to reload.”
Spears, feels Venables does not get enough respect for the job he has done running Clemson’s defense.
“When you think about what Clemson has done to match Alabama, it has been from a physicality standpoint,” Spears said. “We have been enamored with the receivers, (Justyn) Ross and Tee Higgins and what Travis Etienne does in the backfield, Clemson dominated the line of scrimmage, which we very rarely say when we are talking about a team beating and playing against Alabama.
“Like I have mentioned before. I know everyone was enamored with skill guys, but those four front guys—Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence—they put pressure and pressure on Tua Tagovailoa. We can talk about the struggles of Tua Tagovailoa, but the real struggles were up front with offensive linemen being beat by really good defensive linemen. They just dominated that game.”
Spears says Clemson’s ability to produce NFL talent—Wilkins, Ferrell, Lawrence and Bryant were all selected in last April’s NFL Draft—on both sides of the ball is why it is at the beginning stages of being a dynasty.
“When you do that, you get a lot of really good players,” Spears said.