On more than one occasion in 2012, the Clemson Tigers were bailed out by their prolific offense to win games. The Tigers’ defense left plenty to be desired, particularly early in the season. Their defensive unit gave up 31 points or more in each of their first three ACC games, including 49 points to the Florida State Seminoles in a pivotal early-season loss. But as the season went on, the defense got better under new defensive coordinator Brent Venables, a trend that they must continue in 2013 if Clemson has any chance of winning it all.
The defense faced plenty of struggles learning Venables’ system last fall, particularly early. They finished the year as the No. 48 ranked scoring defense and they were surrendering 6.03 yards per play over the first two months of the season, ranking No. 92 in the country. Over the final two months and bowl game, however, Clemson figured things out, allowing just 5.03 yards per play, good for No. 30 in college football. That improvement shows a growing comfort level for the Clemson defenders that should bode well for their fortunes in 2013.
Also helping their case is the incredible amount of production that is coming back, particularly in the pass rush. Clemson’s sack percentage of nine percent in BCS conference games last season ranked No. 10 in the country, higher than SEC powers like the LSU Tigers or Alabama Crimson Tide. In all, the Tigers return 32 sacks from last year, the second most in the ACC and fifth most in college football. They will be led by junior defensive lineman Vic Beasley, who finished with a team-high eight sacks in 2012.
While the offense for Clemson is going to dominate the headlines heading into the 2013 season, it will be the defense that determines just how far the Tigers can go next fall. Do they have enough bite to win the ACC and play for a BCS National Championship?