Clemson’s defense did a lot of good things in 2020.
The Tigers led the ACC in total defense. They tied for first in the league in sacks and interceptions. They ranked second in scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense, tackles for loss and forced turnovers.
However, despite doing all of those things, it still seemed like the standard at Clemson was not like it usually is. Brent Venables defense did not seem to be as dominant as it has been in years past.
Perhaps the way the season ended had a lot to do with it. The Tigers’ yielded a record 639 yards and 49 points to Ohio State in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff.
But the good news for Clemson is its defense was young last year, and 10 starters from the ACC’s top defense return in 2021, including all four starters on the defensive line, as well as defensive ends Xavier Thomas and Justin Foster, who either missed all or most of last year due to COVID-19 complications.
Though he believes his defense still has a long way to go, Venables feels his defense improved a lot in the spring. That should prove to be beneficial when the team gets back to practice later this summer for fall camp.
“This has definitely been a spring where we have benefited and have gotten better,” the defensive coordinator said in the spring. “The right guys are continuing to get better. We have dealt with a lot of issues. I think ten of our top twenty-two guys missed at least half of the spring, if not more. So that is what it is right now, whether it was protocols or whatnot, and some guys like [James] Skalski, [Nolan] Turner, [Baylon] Spector, K.J. Henry, Lannden Sanders, they did not take any live reps.”
With those guys out in the spring, Venables said it gave other players opportunities to get the reps, and more importantly get better, while being exposed with the good and the bad.
“There were a few plays and, obviously, we try to eliminate any [bad] plays whatsoever, but I think overall, we gave up 4.3 or 4.4 yards per play with the first and second group, so that is outstanding football,” Venables said. “When it is all said and done, that is what you want to see. The overall picture, we have been doing a great job.”
The biggest area of improvement is on the defensive line, where the first group has created pressure consistently. The Tigers’ defensive coordinator also likes the improvement he has seen in the secondary where he says he has seen some real improvement from a variety of guys.
“Overall, our spring has been good. In our scrimmages, guys have come out and played well,” Venables said. “Not perfect, but our guys have played well. Again, all of that considered, we have a number of guys on both sides of the ball, where we have missed some time, but that has just given other players opportunities to get out there.”
Clemson opens the season on Sept. 4 against Georgia at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on ABC.
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