ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit was recently a guest on the Gramlich and Mac Lain podcast with Kelly Gramlich and Eric Mac Lain.
Asked which team he thinks will ultimately have the best defense in the ACC this season, Herbstreit said he believes it will be Clemson despite the fact that its former longtime defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, is now at Oklahoma as the Sooners’ head coach.
Herbstreit pointed to the Tigers’ defensive line — which is loaded with talent and features stars such as defensive ends Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry and Myles Murphy, and defensive tackles Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis, to name some — as a big reason why he thinks Clemson will boast the ACC’s best defensive unit.
“It’s going to be weird to see Clemson this year without Coach V on the sidelines going crazy, being held back,” Herbstreit said. “I just think their defensive line is going to be arguably the best in the country, and I really like to start there when it comes to trying to forecast who’s going to have a great defense.”
Herbstreit also mentioned the performance of Clemson’s defense in the 2021 Cheez-It Bowl vs. Iowa State, when the Tigers held the Cyclones to 270 total yards, 14 total first downs and two field goals over the first three quarters of an eventual 20-13 victory.
“I saw enough in their bowl game, the Cheez-It Bowl against Iowa State, because Coach V by then was gone, to say you know what, they’re still going to be sophisticated, they’re still going to be active, they’re still going to be moving, tough defense to figure out,” Herbstreit said.
“So, I think NC State with Coach (Dave) Doeren, they always play physical and kind of an attitude about them, and I think that division has a chance to be really exciting this year. But I’ll go towards Clemson. I think they’re going to have the top defense, even though they’ve got a lot of new faces, especially at linebacker and in the back end.”
At linebacker, Clemson is tasked with replacing James Skalski and Baylon Spector, while the Tigers are also trying to replace a pair of all-ACC corners in Andrew Booth and Mario Goodrich, as well as Nolan Turner at safety.
Last season, the Tigers’ defense ranked first in the ACC and second nationally behind only national champion Georgia in scoring defense (14.8 points per game allowed). Clemson also ranked first in the ACC and eighth in the country in total defense last season, allowing only 305.5 total yards per game.
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