From a production standpoint, Clemson’s defense was really good up front in 2020.
Clemson tied Pitt for the national lead in sacks. The Tigers recorded 46 sacks, while dropping opposing quarterbacks for 307 yards, 27 more yards than any team in the country.
Clemson ranked second in tackles for loss. Only ACC foe Pittsburgh had more (111) than the Tigers 109. Like in sacks, they threw opponents down for a total of 459 yards, also tops in the country.
They also ranked 15th nationally at stopping the run (112.7 yards/game), while opponents averaged just 3.09 yards per rush, the seventh best figure in the country.
What is even more impressive about those numbers, is how young Clemson ‘s defensive front was in 2020. The Tigers had four freshmen and four sophomores playing on last year’s defensive front, yet they still dominated most of their opponents.
Also, Tyler Davis, an All-ACC selection during his freshman season in 2019, missed five games last year. Justin Foster, an All-ACC candidate in 2020 did not play because of complications due to COVID-19. Defensive end Xavier Thomas, an All-American candidate, missed five games as well, including the first three as he tried to come back from COVID issues.
Yet here Clemson was still at the top of the country in all major categories that significantly involve the defensive line. For instance, freshmen defensive tackle Bryan Bresee was named First-Team All-ACC and was voted ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Defensive end Myles Murphy also earned an All-ACC selection and along with Bresee was named a Freshman All-American.
And as impressive as all of that is, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said the Tigers still have some work to do on the defensive line.
“We were young and now we have to take another step,” he said this past spring.
Swinney wants to see his young defensive line get tougher and get stronger, especially when it matters the most. He watched as Ohio State rushed for 254 yards, including 193 yards from Trey Sermon in the College Football Playoff Semifinals at the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes averaged 5.8 yards per carry that night.
That is something Swinney does not want to see out of his defensive front again.
“I love the talent that we have there, but we have to take another step and we have to be a dominant force in those trenches,” he said.
Clemson will kick off the 2021 season on Sept. 4 against Georgia at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
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