In their first game against Georgia Tech, Clemson’s defensive line allowed the Yellow Jackets to rush for 3.0 yards per carry. It was a good performance, but not the kind of numbers the unit has produced in the last couple of years.
Last year, with Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant, Clemson’s opponents averaged just 2.51 yards per carry, which led the nation. The Tigers also led the nation in tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
In Saturday’s 24-10 victory over No. 12 Texas A&M, though it may not have looked like last year’s defensive front, the big guys up front looked much better. With new guys like Nyles Pinckney, Tyler Davis, Jordan Williams, Xavier Thomas and Justin Foster, the Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage and sometimes they did it with just a three-man front.
“They are growing right before our eyes. We are getting better,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday during his weekly teleconference with the media. “We still have a ways to go, but I am really pleased with Tyler Davis. Pinckney has been very, very steady. Jordan had been solid. Darnell (Jefferies) is coming (along).
“It was a different type of game plan. Our ends are kind of growing through experience, you know. We got some growing pains because we do some really good things and then we do somethings that we look like guys that have not played a lot of football. But they’re hungry. They’re coachable. They care.”
They cared enough on Saturday to hold the Aggies to 1.96 yards per carry and to just 53 rushing yards overall. It’s the fewest rushing yards for A&M since gaining just 71 against the Tigers in last year’s game in College Station, Texas.
The Tigers also had two sacks and harassed quarterback Kellen Mond all afternoon.
“They want to get better. I am very encouraged,” Swinney said. “Just the physicality, the guys have answered that task. We might not always be heading in the right direction, but man we are physical.
“To play two tough teams like we have played and to find a way to win with some of the mistakes we have had, that is encouraging because I know we are going to get better. I know these guys. Like I said, they care, and they are coachable.”
Xavier Thomas injury update: Thomas injured his left ankle in the second quarter of Saturday’s win, but got it wrapped and was back on the field on the Tigers’ next serious. He subsequently got a half sack on that series with corner A.J. Terrell.
Swinney said Thomas’ ankle is okay. He was a little soar on Sunday, but he will be okay.
Clemson travels to Syracuse next Saturday to take on the Orange in the Dome. They lost by 43 points to Maryland. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by ABC.
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