Though Clemson routed Virginia in last year’s ACC Championship Game, the Tigers know they could have played a lot better, especially on the defensive side of the football.
Clemson, who takes pride in controlling the line of scrimmage, was overwhelmed up front for a good portion of last year’s game. It allowed the Cavaliers to gain nearly 400 yards of offense and average 5.2 yards per play.
It is something the top-ranked Tigers (2-0, 1-0 ACC) better get fixed Saturday when Virginia comes to Death Valley for a rematch of last year’s title game.
“They’re big. They are big and experienced,” Swinney said.
The Cavaliers are big, and are very much experienced, too. They have three juniors and two seniors paving the way up front. They are also one of the biggest offensive lines Clemson’s going to see all year. Left tackle Ryan Nelson is 6-foot-6, 325, left guard Dillon Reinkensmeyer is 6-foot-6, 315, center Olusegun Oluwatimi is 6-foot-3, 310, right guard Chris Glaser is 6-foot-4, 300 and right tackle Ryan Swoboda is 6-foot-10, 325 pounds.
Even senior tight end Tony Poljan is 6-foot-7, 265 pounds.
“That is the other key thing. They are big strong and experienced,” Swinney said. “They do a really good job of being on the same page. So, we are going to find out (about our defensive line) come Saturday night. That is a key matchup.”
Clemson’s defensive line is not too shabby, either. Even though it has been just two games, the Tigers look like their old self again. The Tigers are second in the country in tackles-for-loss, averaging 11.5 per game. They already have 10 sacks this season which is tied for fourth nationally.
Opponents are averaging just 1.5 yards per rush and 3.76 yards per play.
“I think we are much improved on the defensive line, and hopefully, that will show,” Swinney said. “We only had one sack on them last year and did not have many PPUs either.”
Clemson has improved up front thanks to the emergence of freshmen Bryan Bresee (6-5,300) at defensive tackle and Myles Murphy (6-5, 275) at defensive end. The Tigers have also gotten help in the middle from veterans Jordan Williams (6-4, 310) and Nyles Pinckney (6-1, 300), while sophomore K.J. Henry (6-4, 255) is also emerging as an elite pass rusher.
The Clemson defensive line could also get a boost with the return of All-ACC defensive tackle Tyler Davis, who has missed most of the first two games with a knee injury. The sophomore is listed questionable for Saturday’s 8 p.m. kickoff on the ACC Network.
Lost in last year’s ACC Championship Game, primarily due to Clemson’s dominant performance on offense was Virginia running back Wayne Taulapapa, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry running behind his big offensive line.
At 5-foot-9, 210 pounds, it is easy for Taulapapa to get lost amongst all the trees. In last week’s season-opening win over Duke, the junior rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry doing it.
“Again, they were 10-of-18 on third down and I thought they dominated us on short yardage,” Swinney said. “So, we are going to have to play better up front.”
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