After last year’s national championship run, linebacker James Skalski and the rest of the Clemson defense had big shoes to fill. With big names like Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and many others moving onto bigger and better things, the expectations from the outside were not high, but that was not the case at Clemson.
“It’s weird to think when you look at the stats and you look at the year we’ve had, it’s all been a blur, like every game,” Skalski said. “I feel like I was just preparing for Texas A&M like yesterday and now we’re in the ACC Championship. Looking back at the expectations and the narrative that people have written or talked about, the team that we were supposed to be. We’ve just kept our head down, we’ve known what we’ve had this whole time, and we’ve just bought into the process in preparing for people, and it’s showed.”
The consistently dominant performance of defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ defense has been just what the doctor ordered with the Tigers holding every offense they’ve faced so far this season under 300 yards. In order for this to happen though, players needed to step up and continue the history that embodies the Clemson defense.
“A lot of people had to prove themselves this year and that’s been really fun doing, just playing good team defense,” Skalski said. “There’s no selfishness at all and this is the most cohesive defense I think I’ve ever been a part of since I’ve been here in my four years, even though it’s been great every year. Everyone’s got each other’s backs and it’s special.”
With little action on the field due to injury last season, Skalski has stepped up as a leader on defense this season. The veteran has been performing with a lights-out mentality every snap, hitting a career high 1.5 sacks at Syracuse and earning co-defensive player of the game honors at NC State.
With the ACC Championship on Saturday against Virginia, the Tigers are seeking their fifth straight ACC Championship Game victory, which could make Clemson the first program in the conference championship game era, which started in 1992, to win five straight conference championships.
“Anything we do we get a lot of attention and yeah we get pissed off at stuff, but the last thing we’re thinking about is trying to get in the playoff or all this other stuff,” Skalski said. “We are just worried about the ACC Championship Game and we know that if we win that, there’s a really good chance we’re gonna get in the playoff. That’s all we can think about.”
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