Though some schools, who have traditionally been known for playing at elite levels on defense, have struggled this year, that is not the case at Clemson.
Under defensive coordinator Brent Venables, the Tigers still rank in the top 10 nationally in many defensive categories, including second in both tackles for loss and sacks. They also rank sixth in total defense (298.5 yds/game) and ninth in rushing defense (99.8 yds/game). Clemson is just outside the top 10 in scoring defense as they rank 11th, allowing just 17.5 points per game.
The crazy thing is the Tigers have done it with a defense that has had 23 different players start in 2020, up from about 16 per year normally under Venables. Most of those 23 players consistent of freshmen and sophomores, indicating Clemson’s elite level of playing defense is not going anywhere anytime soon.
“I guess you can say we are better because statistically we are better,” linebacker Baylon Spector said when asked to compare this year’s defense to 2019’s. “Obviously, some people left, and we had a little less people that came back. Had a lot of new starters this year, but we are excited.”
The Tigers (10-1) should be excited. They have been getting the job done as freshmen like Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy, Trent Simpson, Malcolm Greene, Tyler Venables, Keith Maguire, LaVonta Bentley, Ray Thornton, R.J. Mickens and Fred Davis have all come in and started or played significant snaps.
As Clemson gets set to play Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Day, its quality of depth has been as good as it has ever been.
“I don’t know how many different starters that have played this year, but throughout the year, multiple guys have come and started,” Spector said. “Even in the Notre Dame game, we had guys that came in and played well. R.J. Mickens came in at the end of the game and got valuable snaps.
“It brings a lot to the table. Guys are not freshmen anymore. They have played in a lot of games. We will be ready.”