On Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, Clemson’s defense put together its most dominant performance against South Carolina in 30 years during the Tigers’ 38-3 victory.
The three points allowed by the Tigers are the fewest in the rivalry series since shutting out the Gamecocks in 1989. Clemson allowed 179 yards, the fewest yielded by Clemson in the series since that 1989 contest (155).
South Carolina was only able to muster one productive possession Saturday, a 15-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a 49-yard field goal by Parker White. Other than that, the Gamecocks managed just 98 yards on 38 plays (2.6 yards per play). The Gamecocks went three-and-out on six of their 11 possessions.
Clemson (12-0) finished the regular season ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring defense (10.1 points per game allowed) and No. 2 in total defense (232.8 yards per game allowed), just a half-yard shy of Ohio State (232.3).
“Proud of our guys, man,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “They’ve been a blast to coach this year and they’re so hungry, take a lot of pride in the standard that we’ve set here. With the exception of the one drive, we were in complete control from the onset. Had a great week of preparation and were ready to play. As we all know it’s hard to do consistently over time, and they had great focus and played with great toughness, a lot of passion. It was enjoyable to watch them have fun, and that’s what it looks like.”
Venables’ unit has been incredibly consistent this season, holding each of its 12 opponents to below 300 yards of total offense.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, Clemson is the first team in searchable data dating to 1996 to open a season by holding its first 12 opponents to 300 or fewer yards. Ohio State had held its first 11 opponents this year under 300 yards but gave up 396 yards at Michigan on Saturday.
“Obviously that’s hard to do,” Venables said of the streak. “You quantify playing well by how they’re playing, and then statistically it’s backed up. And that’s what I’ve always, as a coach, have hung my hat on and taken the most pride in when it happens is the consistency… Probably the hardest thing to do is to play at a real high level consistently. You’re dealing with young people, you’re dealing in competitive sports — it’s very difficult. So, that’s reflective of the kind of season that we’re having.”
Clemson has now held 15 consecutive opponents to 20 or fewer points for the first time since a 31-game streak across the 1937-40 seasons under Hall of Fame coaches Jess Neely and Frank Howard.
There were a lot of questions about Clemson’s defense in the preseason after the Tigers lost seven starters from last year’s national championship unit. Those questions have been answered emphatically with Clemson giving up less points per game and yards per game than a season ago.
Venables credited seniors like K’Von Wallace, Tanner Muse, Denzel Johnson and Chad Smith for stepping up to lead the D this season.
“There were a lot of question marks going into the year, so I’m not pointing fingers or trying to throw it back because I had my own question marks,” Venables said. “I ain’t saying, ‘Ah I knew we were going to be great.’ Again, I still think greatness is still to be had, still out there in front of us.
“I know how hard our players and our coaches have worked to put ourselves in this position, and then to watch the growth that’s taken place, led by some fifth-year guys or fourth-year seniors in K’Von and Tanner and Denzel… The teams that I’ve been on that have been really good is when you have those fourth- and fifth-year players that kind of are the glue to everything that you do. They understand the standard, they understand the details, they understand the work that’s got to go into it, and then they’re very invested so they’re willing to lead, they’re willing to be coached, and to me that’s kind of the key to this year’s group.”
Clemson’s defense has helped the Tigers record a seven-game streak of 30-point wins to tie the longest streak in the AP Poll era (since 1936), per ESPN Stats & Info, matching Houston in 2011 and Michigan in 1976.
“I know y’all that cover us have heard us say it a lot – ‘sustaining the grind’ is easily the hardest thing to do,” Venables said. “It’s easy to grow weary, it’s a long season, there’s a lot of things that you say as a coach week in and week out, and players choose on whether or not in falls on deaf ears. So, I just have a great appreciation for players and coaches showing up. It’s the supports staff, it’s the scout team… There’s a lot that goes into it. Because it’s one body, many parts, and it couldn’t be more truer than what you’re seeing out there right now for us as a football team, not just as a defense.”
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