Before any kind of success comes adversity. One has to fail before he or she can succeed in life.
Clemson’s secondary, a unit filled with experienced and talented players flying all over the field, has been one of the best in the country all season. Though Clemson lost four All-Americans from last year’s defensive front, no one has been able to throw the football on the Tigers with any consistent success this year.
Only Texas A&M has thrown for more than 200 yards in a game. In their last outing, the secondary held Wake Forest, who leads the ACC in passing yards and passing yards per game, to 41 yards on 6 of 14 passes while intercepting quarterback Jamie Newman twice.
But it wasn’t always this way.
In fact, it was just last year when South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley humiliated the Clemson secondary in the Tigers’ 56-35 victory at Death Valley. Bentley neutralized Clemson’s elite pass rushers by getting the ball out of his hands quickly and to his playmakers – Deebo Samuel, Shi Smith and Bryan Edwards.
Bentley completed 32 of 50 passes, while becoming the first quarterback to ever throw 500 or more yards on a Clemson defense. He finished with 510 yards and five touchdowns. He was just the second South Carolina quarterback to ever throw five touchdown passes against the Tigers.
Clemson safety Tanner Muse said last year’s experience against the Gamecocks was “super embarrassing” for the secondary because they pride themselves on their performance.
“Seeing how the game played out, it was very slow,” Muse said. “We did not really get after the quarterback as well in that game. Just little things, just little things in the coverage.
“There were about five or six plays where if you get back, you hold them under a certain amount of yards and you have a really good game. But it all comes down to the little things and if you do not do the little things right, you will get exposed and it will come something that it shouldn’t and just a big scene as a defense and it just really hurts you. You just have to tighten up the little things.”
Clemson (11-0) not only tighten up on the little things, but it clamped down on just about everything.
Since the South Carolina game last year, no one has been able to have much success throwing the ball on the Tigers. They shut down Pitt’s Kenny Pickett in the ACC Championship Game. Notre Dame’s Ian Book was no match for them in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Cotton Bowl and they picked off Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa twice in the national championship game.
“After that (South Carolina) game it was kind of like a wakeup call … You saw just new life in us,” Muse said. “So, it was kind of a humbling motivation. I think you saw the rest worked out for us.”
And it continues to work out to this day. Through the first 11 games this season, the Tigers lead the nation in completions allowed (124), completion percentage defense (47.1) and defensive passing efficiency rating (89.2). They are tied for first nationally in touchdown passes allowed (6).
Clemson is also second nationally in passing yards allowed per game (128.5) and yards per attempt (5.4). The Tigers lead the ACC in interceptions with 13 and rank 12th nationally. They have returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns.
But despite all of their success since last year’s game against the Gamecocks, the Tigers’ secondary still has work to do and one of the things they want to do is make sure they redeem themselves in Saturday’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
“Seeing (last year’s) film is very disappointing for us, so we just can’t let something like that happen again. That is just not who we are,” Muse said.
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