Tigers rank No. 1 nationally in almost every defensive passing category
Before the season started, Dabo Swinney felt his defensive secondary had a chance to be the best in his 12 years as Clemson’s head coach.
The third-ranked Tigers, who will play No. 23 Virginia in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, brought back two seniors at safety in K’Von Wallace and Tanner Muse, as well as experienced backups in Nolan Turner and Denzel Johnson. They also brought back All-ACC corner A.J. Terrell, one of the best shutdown corners in the conference.
At linebacker Isaiah Simmons returned as the SAM/Nickel back, while James Skalski and Chad Smith were experienced players who had already played a lot in their Clemson careers.
The only true question mark was at the other cornerback spot where the Tigers had to replace All-ACC corner and second-round draft pick Trayvon Mullen. However, in the spring, Derion Kendrick moved over from wide receiver when injuries hit the cornerback position.
In what was an experimental move, turned out to the be the final piece of a unit that has become the top secondary in the country.
“That just shows you the culture of this team,” Wallace said. “We just love playing with each other. You have (Kendrick) catching interceptions at South Carolina, it is different for the fans to get excited when we make an interception, but you see our whole sideline irrupt and the players on the field irrupt. It is not because of the big play was made, but the fact that DK made it.
“We just play as a team and just shows a lot about the culture of this program.”
Kendrick’s interception in last week’s win over the Gamecocks was his second of the season and the Tigers’ 14th, which ranks 14th nationally and leads the ACC.
But the strength of Clemson’s secondary has nothing to do with intercepting passes. The Tigers’ pass defense has ascended to the top of nearly every statistical pass defensive category. Clemson ranks first or tied for first in the country in opponent passing yards per game, opponent completions, opponent completion percentage, opponent passing yards per attempt, opponent passer rating and opponent passing touchdowns.
Heading into Saturday’s game against the Cavaliers, the Tigers have allowed just six passing touchdowns all season. To put that into perspective, the next closest defense in the ACC is Miami with 15 allowed touchdown passes.
“We have to do what this program is built off of, and that is being the best,” Wallace said. “Best is the standard. We are going to have to play our best four quarters, no matter what.”
Clemson will try to do that again this week in the ACC Championship Game. The Tigers will go up against Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins, who leads the ACC in total yards, averaging 303.0 per game.
Twice this year he has gone over 400 yards, including 475 in last week’s win over Virginia Tech.
“I think he’s a fantastic player, dual-threat guy, can really make stuff happen with his legs and also his arm, just being able to bring that dynamic to the game,” Muse said. “He is really tough for any defense. Just seeing him play, it was Friday against Virginia Tech, it was really special to watch just because he’s such a dynamic player. He did a great job executing their plan.”
Perkins threw for 311 yards and ran for 164 yards in helping the Cavaliers beat Virginia Tech for the first time in 15 years last Friday in Charlottesville, Virginia. The win also gave them their first Coastal Division Championship, earning them a trip to the ACC Championship Game.
“He does a very good job running well and competing. That is the number one thing,” Wallace said. “He is a competitor. He wants to win. Last year, he was very hurt when he left the field (against Virginia Tech). This year, he got the job done, by leading his team to the ACC Championship.”
And as a reward, he gets to play against the best secondary in the country.
We are pleased to announce a new partnership with Fanatics. This is great news for Tiger fans as they have the officially licensed Clemson gear.
The Clemson Insider will get a portion of all sales so get ready for another championship season by ordering your Clemson gear today and help support TCI.