It is been so long since Clemson’s defense last produced a shutout, even linebacker James Skalski was a little confused.
“I think it was Syracuse at home in ’16. I remember it like it was yesterday,” the senior said.
Skalski was right. The last shutout did happen in 2016 and the Tigers did shutout Syracuse 54-0. However, the last shutout came in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, a 31-0 win over No. 3 Ohio State.
But Skalski can be forgiven for forgetting which game it was, after all top-ranked Clemson has had so many opportunities to post a shutout since then. Somehow, they gave up a score late in those ballgames. That was not the case Saturday at Death Valley.
Playing in front of the home crowd for the first time this year, the defense recorded its first shutout since the aforementioned Fiesta Bowl with a 49-0 victory over The Citadel.
Clemson (2-0) limited the Bulldogs to 162 total yards, including 86 rushing yards.
“I think we have definitely had opportunities in the last four years to do so, but we haven’t,” Skalski said. “When you are a defensive guy that is something you really want to do is get that goose egg. So, it is nice.”
When looking at it, it is crazy to think the Tigers have not had a shutout since the Fiesta Bowl. Clemson finished second nationally in scoring defense in 2017, led the country in 2018 and last year finished third. But none of those teams were able to post a shutout.
Last year, Charlotte and Wake Forest got late scores due to a couple of turnovers. In 2018, the Tigers gave up a couple of late scores to Florida State, Boston College and Duke. Then in 2017, Clemson did the same against Kent State, The Citadel and South Carolina.
It looked as if The Citadel (0-2) was going to prevent the shutout again when quarterback Raleigh Webb completed a 38-yard pass to Ryan McCarthy to the Clemson 30-yard line early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs netted nothing on the next three plays and sent kicker Colby Kintner out to attempt a 47-yard field goal.
But Kitner’s kick was wide left with 12:48 to go. They did not come close to scoring the rest of the night.
“I thought our guys really came ready to play,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We had a good, tough, stressful week of preparation. There are a lot of differences in technique, skills, and calls. We got a lot of newbies their first experience with the triple option and I’m proud of the mindset that showed, the urgency and maturity.”
The Citadel’s triple option was useless against the Tigers’ run defense. Clemson limited the Bulldogs to 1.8 yards per carry, while recording 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including four sacks.
“When you play against the triple-option, it is hard. No matter who it is,” said Skalski, who returned a first-quarter fumble 17 yards for a touchdown. “It is hard to change your ears like that. It is a whole other language per say in football. But it was really, really nice. It is a good confidence booster for these guys. It was good to see the young guys get in there and make plays, too.”
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