Since walking out of the Georgia Dome after their stunning upset of the LSU Tigers in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, the Clemson Tigers have been a popular sleeper pick to capture the 2013 BCS National Championship. The returns of big names such as QB Tajh Boyd and All-Purpose threat Sammy Watkins certainly lay some validation to those predictions. However, if the Tigers want to take that next step, the success of the defense is going to be its biggest boost in that direction.
Against LSU back on New Year’s Eve, we caught a glimpse of just how dangerous the Clemson D can be when they’re clicking on all cylinders. Holding the Bayou Bengals to just 219 total yards (only 99 on the ground), coordinator Brent Venables and his squad put everyone on notice that they’re coming into 2013 with a purpose.
Clemson finished 10-2 last season, and in both of those losses, inconsistency on defense made the difference between them finishing as they did and finishing undefeated.
Taking the September contest against the Florida State Seminoles as a quick example, the Tigers seemed to be well on their way to walking out of Tallahassee, Florida with a victory. Clemson took a 21-14 lead into halftime and pretty much left it there. In the second half, the Tigers simply had no answer for the Florida State offense. By the end of the game, Clemson had allowed FSU to gain a stunning average of 7.2 yards per rush.
If they want to hold that crystal ball next January, stuff like that simply can’t happen.
This is the second season that the defense is under the control of Venables. With a total of 10 players returning on defense that started at least five games last year, the experience is there to contribute to success.
Clemson will be entering 2013 with a solid linebacking corps and defensive line that, last year, got progressively better since that FSU game at terrorizing opposing offenses. But, the secondary is a different story.
If there was one clear-cut weak link of the defense last year that absolutely needs to improve, it’s the secondary. Too many times last season, the Tigers gave up unnecessary yardage through the air. In the losses to Florida State and South Carolina last season, the Tigers gave up averages of 10.9 and 7.6 yards per pass respectively. If anything, the secondary could have made that difference between the two-loss and an undefeated season.
Am I bought into the hype that Clemson can win the national championship this year? Absolutely, I am. I understand that we won’t see the same defense that showed up in Atlanta back in December through all 12 games this season. That’s simply near impossible.
But, if some of the mistakes that shot them in the foot last season are cut down, then we could all be treated to Dabo Swinney celebrating a national championship on live TV. That, in and of itself, would be worth it.