RALEIGH, N.C. — Clemson’s defense has been one of the best in the country early in the season despite a few nicks and bruises along the way.
The list of players banged up on that side of the ball grew considerably Saturday. It played a significant role in the group wearing down by the end of Saturday’s double-overtime loss to North Carolina State at Carter-Finley Stadium.
The seventh-ranked Tigers headed to the neighboring state knowing they would be without defensive tackle Tyler Davis, who underwent surgery on his bicep Tuesday that will keep him out indefinitely. On Saturday, other injuries started early and came often.
The first was middle linebacker James Skalski, who appeared to injure his shoulder in the first quarter. The senior briefly returned but continued to grab his arm in pain. Skalski threw his helmet a couple of times on the sideline in apparent frustration and exited permanently not long after, shedding his pads and watching the majority of the game from the sideline while Kane Patterson filled in.
Then came other hits to the defensive line, none of which were more impactful than Bryan Bresee’s injury. The sophomore defensive tackle went down in pain to his leg early in the third quarter with the game still tied at 7. Bresee limped off the field with the help of medical personnel and draped a towel over his head, signaling the end of his day. He had ice on his knee while sitting on the bench.
“It has a cumulative effect,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We’ve got to be more efficient so we can get off the field, but guys had to really bite down and take more reps that we’d like them to take.”
Even some of those filling in for Davis and Bresee went down, leaving the Tigers’ depth scarce on the interior of the defensive line as the game wore on. Etinosa Rueben and true freshman Payton Page were in the game together at one point in the second half after Tre Williams and Ruke Orhorhoro were injured, though Williams and Orhorhoro returned to finish the game.
But having to rely on less frontline players up front combined with another lethargic showing from an offense that had six three-and-outs in a seven-possession span (not counting a kneeldown before halftime) at one point, fatigue eventually took over. Clemson defended 96 plays while N.C. State’s defense played just 49 snaps, which left the Tigers’ defense on the field a whopping 41 minutes, 48 seconds in regulation.
“We just got worn down with their time of possession and the amount of plays,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys hurt. My heart just breaks for those guys. We’ve got a physically hurt team and mentally hurt team right now.”
By the time the Wolfpack scored a touchdown in each overtime period, the only FBS defense that hadn’t allowed an offensive touchdown coming into the day had surrendered four. N.C. State had 233 of its 386 yards after halftime and had a couple of chances to break a 14-all tie late in the fourth quarter with drives setting up field goals that were missed.
“We had a chance to win the game at the end because of their resolve,” Venables said of his unit.
Swinney said he didn’t have an update on the status of Bresee or Skalski afterward, but it’s clear the Tigers now have concerns on both sides of the ball.
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!