When looking through the history of Clemson football, when it has been at its best, there has always been one clear indicator for success. And that is playing defense.
Clemson has a rich tradition when it comes to playing defense. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Danny Ford’s Clemson teams were known for their defensive prowess. The Tigers always had a top 5 or top 10 level defense nationally, which is one of the reasons why they won the 1981 National Championship and produced an 87-25-4 record in the 1980s.
Clemson’s defense led the nation in total defense in 1990 and remained as one of the top units throughout the early part of the decade.
When Dabo Swinney revised the Clemson program as a national power in the 2010s, he did it by reestablishing the program’s defensive tradition. He brought in Brent Venables to coach his defense in 2012 and since then the Tigers have fielded some of the best defensive units in the country.
Again, proof is in the success. Since Clemson got defensive minded, again, it has won two national championships, played for it two times and won more games than any program in college football since 2015.
This year, the Tigers defense could be one of the best defenses the Tigers have had. They return 10 starters from last year’s defense that led the ACC in total defense and was second in scoring defense.
Some think the Tigers have a chance to have the best defense in college football this year, maybe rivaling the 2018 defense that had four NFL draft picks on the defensive line in Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant.
“James Skalski, Baylon Spector and Nolan Turner will all be super seniors with the extra year of eligibility, but I’m more excited about the super sophomores who saw early action in 2020 because of injuries,” writes Chip Patterson. “Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy played key roles for the Tigers last year, and if healthy, they’ll be joined by proven difference-makers in Tyler Davis and Xavier Thomas.
“Suddenly, Clemson has a defensive line that more closely resembles that group in 2018 that helped power the last national title run. Nine Clemson defenders earned all-conference honors last season, and seven of them are back for 2021, highlighting a unit that ranks No. 3 nationally in returning production. The added experience gives the group real competitive depth, which keeps Brent Venables’ group fresh through the grind of what they plan on being a 15-game season.”
Will having so much production back on defense benefit the Tigers enough to win another national championship? That will be answered soon enough.
But one thing is certain, the Clemson defense will put the Tigers in position to have another opportunity to contend for one.
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