After watching Clemson allow 519 yards of offense in Saturday’s 47-40 double-overtime loss to Notre Dame, including 209 rushing and 310 passing, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit believes right now, the Tigers’ defense is missing the kind of game-changing playmakers it has consistently had in recent years – especially on the defensive line.
Herbstreit recognizes Clemson is banged up on that side of the ball and played against the Fighting Irish without starting defensive tackle Tyler Davis (lower leg) and starting linebackers James Skalski (groin) and Mike Jones (hamstring), while safeties Nolan Turner and Lannden Zanders, cornerbacks Sheridan Jones and Andrew Booth, and defensive linemen Bryan Bresee and Justin Mascoll were all banged up or injured during Saturday’s game.
But when Herbstreit looks at Clemson’s defense, he doesn’t see the type of “alphas” the Tigers have featured over the last several years with current NFL players like defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, and going back a little further, guys like current Miami Dolphins edge rusher Shaq Lawson.
“As much as we’re taking this away from Notre Dame, let’s look at Clemson because I know they had injuries, and that’s important,” Herbstreit said Tuesday night during ESPN’s College Football Playoff: Top 25 show. “But do you guys look at their defense, as good as Brent Venables is, and you just don’t see the same personality and the alphas that they’ve had in the past?
“Now, once they get Skalski and they get Tyler Davis and they get Mike Jones and they get all their pieces back, then we can truly evaluate them. But I don’t know, man. On the defensive line, especially on the edges, it just doesn’t quite feel like what they’ve had going all the way back to like Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd. It wasn’t just that great group from a couple years ago. Vic Beasley… I mean, they’ve always had a guy that you were terrified of, and I don’t know, man. Right now, I think they’re still developing those guys, but they don’t have them right now.”
If you ask ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer, on the other hand, his biggest concern about Clemson’s defense lies in the secondary – particularly on the edges at the cornerback positions.
“Defensively, I’m seeing a group of cornerbacks that I think played really well at the start of the year,” Palmer said on the College Football Playoff: Top 25 show. “These last three games now, though, they’ve been giving up a lot of big plays down the field. That’s something Brent Venables is going to have to get corrected. They can’t be giving up and living giving up so many explosive plays.”
Palmer wonders if the loss to Notre Dame will serve as motivation for the Tigers moving forward, with there now being virtually no margin of error for them when it comes to making the playoff.
“I think in a lot of ways, yes, this team needs to get healthy,” he said. “But more than anything, maybe that loss against Notre Dame just lights a fire up under Clemson, gets them refocused. They’re going to be playing with a sense of urgency knowing they lose one more time, they’re out of the College Football Playoff and to get back to being better fundamentally on both sides of the ball.”
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