Dabo Swinney was pretty direct when he talked about his run defense during Tuesday’s press conference.
“We were probably a little soft in the last couple of games against the run,” he said.
Soft is generally something you don’t hear about the Tigers’ defense, especially since defensive coordinator Brent Venables has been there. They have been one of the best in the ACC, and in the country for that matter, when it comes to stopping the run.
Clemson, who hosts Florida State on Saturday, has led the ACC in rushing defense in each of the last two seasons and ranked fourth nationally in 2018. Better yet, the Tigers led the country in yards per carry allowed, yielding just 2.5 yards per carry. The eight rushing touchdowns they allowed last season tied for second nationally.
But those are numbers from the past. In the last two games, the defense has not lived up to those standards.
“We’ve missed some tackles and then we did not fit a few things up properly and we played a couple of teams who were very committed to running the ball,” Swinney said. “Charlotte is really good. I told you guys going in these guys can flat outrun the football, that’s just their style of play.”
Charlotte rushed for 153 yards and averaged 3.9 yards per carry, while North Carolina ran for 146 yards and averaged 4.1 per carry.
“It is not like they are averaging 8.1, but that is not our standard,” Swinney said. “We need to just be disciplined and line up right, having your eyes on the right things, squeezing properly, it is just details. That is really it and the missed tackles.”
Before the North Carolina game, the Tigers’ first-string defense had not really allowed any long runs, but the Tar Heels popped two of them with a 31-yard run and a 22-yard run in the fourth quarter. Swinney said the 31-yard run was just a simple power play where they did not fit the gaps properly, while the 22-yard carry was due to missed tackles.
“It is not like people are smashing us and knocking us off the ball and stuff like that, but just being detailed because when you don’t do things right, those good backs have a way of finding those creases,” he said. “We have not been giving up really any big runs and they popped a couple on us, so we have to do a better job with that and be where we are supposed to be and then we have to be physical.”
Though Florida State is averaging just 121.2 yards a game on the ground, running back Cam Ackers is averaging 116.4 of those yards.
“He is a physical player, so you better approach with that mindset or he will bloody your nose,” Swinney said.
Though the Seminoles (3-2, 2-1 ACC) don’t run the ball well overall, they don’t give up on the run, either. Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles stays true to the running game no matter what is happening in the game.
“This is a very committed team to running it and this is a very committed back. You better have your big boy pads on because he is going to keep coming,” Swinney said. “We have played a couple of good backs and we have to match that physicality.”
In other words, the Tigers can’t be soft.