It’s no secret Clemson’s strength on the defensive side of the football this year will come in the secondary. The Tigers return three starters in the defensive backfield, as well as its top two reserve safeties.
Junior A.J. Terrell is an All-ACC candidate at cornerback, while seniors Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace return as starters at safety. Junior Nolan Turner and senior Denzel Johnson are also back as reserve safeties, following a year when both came up big for Clemson and provided much needed depth at the positions.
As the top-ranked Tigers prepare for Thursday’s season opener against Georgia Tech, those five believe the cohesion in the backfield is a lot better than it was in the spring, despite having a new corner in Derion Kendrick, as well as a lot of freshmen who will play at both safety and cornerback this year.
“Obviously, we lost Trayvon Mullen and we have some new corners. A.J. is still there, but we got DK that is there, and we have to get all the freshman on the same page at safety. So, I would say it is our chemistry (that’s better),” Johnson said.
Last year, Clemson’s pass defense was considered the weak link on a defense that finished the year leading the nation in scoring defense and was fifth overall in total defense. The Tigers’ finished 24th nationally in passing defense, allowing a respectable 189.6 yards per game.
Clemson gave up just 13 touchdowns all season, but eight of those came in two games. The Tigers allowed Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond to throw for 430 yards and 3 touchdowns and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley to throw for 510 yards and 5 scores.
The two games caused the unit to receive a lot of scrutiny from the fans and media alike. However, after their dismal performance against rival South Carolina, the unit came together in the postseason.
In the ACC Championship Game and the two College Playoff games, they allowed just 463 combined passing yards and just 2 touchdowns, while grabbing four interceptions. And did that while going against two of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Notre Dame’s Ian Book and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
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