Clemson will be without one linebacker and could get another one back when the third-ranked Tigers take on No. 2 Notre Dame next Saturday in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.
Head coach Dabo Swinney reported Sunday night starting middle linebacker James Skalski could be ready to go against the Irish after being taken out of the Virginia Tech game after the third play. His replacement Jake Venables will not be back in time for the conference title game.
“He broke a long bone (in his arm). He had a plate put in,” Swinney said. “I think he had nine screws put in there. He is still pretty sore. He will come back stronger than ever, but he is definitely going to be out.”
Venables broke his arm on the last play of the first quarter after he replaced Skalski in the middle of the defense. The Clemson coaches decided to take Skalski out of the game after the senior middle linebacker complained about his groin being sore following the Hokies’ first offensive series of the night.
Skalski had surgery on his groin in October, which caused him to miss the Syracuse, Boston College and Notre Dame games. He returned and played 45 snaps and had six tackles against Pitt on Nov. 28.
Swinney sounded hopeful his senior linebacker will get to play in the ACC Championship Game.
“I hope so. He had a good week,” the Clemson coach said. “We will see where he is tomorrow.”
The Tigers (9-1, 8-1 ACC) are a totally different defense without Skalski and defensive tackle Tyler Davis in the middle. Davis has missed five games this year due to injury, but in the five games he played in the Tigers not only went 5-0, but they held their opponents to 12.8 points and 264.6 yards per game.
In the seven games in which Skalski has played, Clemson is 7-0 and is allowing 12.4 points and 271.7 yards per game.
As a whole, Swinney says the defenses is as healthy as it has been since the first week of the season. Clemson has not truly had the same starting lineup on defense since Week 1 when it opened the season at Wake Forest. The silver lining in all of this is it has allowed the Tigers’ younger players to get some valuable experience in key situations.
“We have had injuries and we have a little bit of everything across the board, but guys continue to play well,” he said. “We have been forced to get guys ready in different roles and so forth. With Skalski being out, it has given a lot of guys opportunities. You look at what Baylon Spector has done this year.
“So, where we are right now, totality wise, after ten games, it is really pleasing, as far as where we started from every aspect. From a functional depth standpoint, confidence, just knowledge and understanding of our scheme and what we are asking people to do. We are fundamentality better. Technically, we are more consistent. So, I am proud of what we have been able to do. I definitely think that is a positive for us down the stretch here.”
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