Earlier this week Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told members of the media that the defensive line needed help developing and compared them to toddlers in potty training.
Thursday night the top-ranked Tigers routed Georgia Tech 52-14 in their season opener and the defensive line took some solid first steps.
The Clemson defense held Geoff Collins’ new-look Yellow Jackets to 294 yards of total offense and just 157 rushing yards, with a large chunk coming later in the game when Swinney’s foot eased up on the gas pedal.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables did not have much to complain about following his team’s opener and bragged on the progress of his unit that looks a lot different than this time last year.
“I’m proud of our guys, I thought they came ready to play and I saw guys play with tremendous effort and a lot of passion,” Venables said. “I thought we were physical and that our positioning was pretty good.”
Freshman defensive tackle Tyler Davis, redshirt sophomore defensive end Logan Rudolph, graduate tackle Nyles Pinckney and junior end Justin Foster started on the defensive line. Between the four of them, not one player had started a game in a Clemson uniform.
Despite the lack of experience, these untested players held their own against a Georgia Tech team which, before Thursday, nobody really knew what to expect from when it trotted onto the field.
Venables took notice of the solid performance from his front line.
“It was the first game for a lot of guys as starters and I thought they performed well, particularly in the first half,” Venables said. “We had a lot of situational football where our guys really responded, came through, plus a couple of forced turnovers and some fourth-down stops. We saw a lot tonight.”
The Tiger defense grew up Thursday night. One game into the season, the unit showed growth that if harnessed properly can make a big difference moving forward.
Ninety players saw the field for the Tigers on Thursday night, and if the starters had played more reps, there was a significant chance of a shutout. Nonetheless the growth stood out to Venables, but his defense still has a lot of room for improvement as the season progresses.
“We left some money on the table. With a little bit of improvement and correction, we could have had a shutout,” Venables said. “It’s that close. But absolutely, there’s a ton that you saw our guys grow up from.”
Clemson is back in action on Sept. 7 as it hosts No. 12 Texas A&M at 3:30 p.m. in Memorial Stadium.
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