All offseason, the biggest question for the No. 3 Clemson Tigers in terms of becoming a national championship contender has been its defense and whether it can generate the stops it needs to get its potent high octane offense back on the field. And thus far, signs are pointing in the right direction through the first two weeks in its second season under defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Against the Georgia Bulldogs in Week 1, the Tigers, while allowing running back Todd Gurley to rush for 154 yards and two touchdowns, did not allow quarterback Aaron Murray to throw a single touchdown pass. They also held Georgia to 4-for-14 on third down conversions and generated plenty of pressure along their defensive line against Georgia’s experienced offensive line. Defensive end Vic Beasley came up with two sacks after having eight all of last season as a rotational player, and linebackers Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey have proved to be among Clemson’s best options at linebacker. They got stops and allowed their offense more opportunities on the field.
And in week two against FCS opponent South Carolina State the pressure continued from the Tigers’ front seven, and the defense even put points on the board thanks to a couple of interception returns from cornerbacks Martin Jenkins and Darius Robinson. They also held the Bulldogs to 86 rushing yards and only 155 passing yards.
But has two weeks been enough to quiet the critics?
Many will still question the state of the secondary, who still have some questions to answer, especially at corner. The Tigers are still rotating between the likes of Bashuad Breeland, Garry Peters, Martin Jenkins and Darius Robinson. All four have experience in starting roles, but the Tigers still have them listed as co-starters on the depth chart. They have each shown flashes but need to show more instincts with the ball in the air than they have up until this point. The Tigers’ tackling in the secondary continues to show inconsistency as well, especially in the open field. This group is also pretty low on field when it comes to forcing turnovers, though Jenkins’ and Robinson’s interceptions against South Carolina State were a good start towards changing the outlook of Clemson’s secondary.
The Tigers are now ranked No. 3, and it will be up to a revived Clemson defense to support its offense and to make sure this team doesn’t break under the pressure as it enters ACC play. And its first test will come against NC State next Thursday.