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Clemson Football: Grading the Tigers’ Defense Week 4 vs NC State

On a night where the Clemson Tigers‘ offense wasn’t clicking on all cylinders, it was thanks to their defense and special teams play that allowed the No. 4 Tigers to avoid an upset in their 26-14 victory over the NC State Wolfpack.

Against an offense in its first year under Dave Doeren with a backup quarterback, Clemson’s defense proved enough to hold NC State to seven points for much of the night until the fourth quarter, when quarterback Pete Thomas scored a rushing touchdown after an over seven minute drive to cut the lead to 12. But by then the damage had already been done.

Clemson’s defense has been the biggest question mark for this team, but there’s no doubt that they made more plays than the offense did in their Thursday night debut, though the seven minute drive does not tell the whole story. Just how did Clemson’s defense grade out in their performance?

1. Defensive line: A

Defensive end Vic Beasley has played better than rival South Carolina Gamecock defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, notching five sacks in the Tigers’ first three contests, including two against NC State. Beasley’s athleticism on the edge provided a spark for the Tigers’ defensive line, and his forced fumble in the third quarter really changed the tide of the game and allowed Clemson to widen their small lead. Beasley had eight sacks last season as a situational pass rusher and is currently on course for a double digit sack season. Beasley now has 13 career sacks on his resume. Freshman Shaq Lawson flashed his raw ability by totaling three tackles for loss, including his first career sack. As Lawson continues to develop his game he looks to continue Clemson’s tradition of developing pass rushers at defensive end.

2. Linebacker: A

Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey continue to solidify the linebacker position, leading all Tigers in tackles with 14 and 11, respectively. In terms of linebacker play, there weren’t tackling issues or worries about their play for the entire game, and the two have had good results being on the field together at the same time. Both are on pace to be the team’s leading tacklers, and their play has said plenty about the defense’s improvement in year two under Brent Venables.

3. Secondary: B-

The worst part of the defense? The secondary, who continues to have tackling issues, especially in space. The secondary didn’t allow a single touchdown, but this group still has plenty to work on, especially at the cornerback position. Safety Robert Smith was inconsistent at his position, getting caught peeking in the backfield on several long pass plays. He got spelled by true freshman Korrin Wiggins, who may be one to watch in the secondary moving forward. The Tigers can bet that teams will look to take advantage of this team’s questionable secondary the way that NC State did through misdirection and play action.

4. Special Teams: A

Placekicker Chandler Cantanzaro came through as he has these past three seasons, going two-for-two on field goals and surpassing Clemson’s scoring record for kickers. Cantanzaro will only improve upon that number for the rest of 2013. Punter Bradley Pinion didn’t have the strong leg he exhibited in the Tigers’ first two games, though he had been battling a leg injury during the bye week. But his kick game has improved special teams coverage on both kickoff and punt returns, as the Tigers allowed no big kick or punt returns in the game.