Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has done a tremendous job in creating pressure with the Tigers’ front four in 2013. As a result, the Tigers lead the nation in sacks per game, averaging four per contest. It’s a dramatic improvement for a Clemson team that struggled to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks in 2011, the year before Venables arrived.
The Tigers will need that pressure to upset the timing of a Florida State Seminoles offense that is third in the country in points scored. To this point, the Seminoles have only been sacked nine times, but they haven’t faced a rush like they will on Saturday night.
Clemson rotates a number of players on the defensive line in order to stay fresh, but they rely heavily on junior defensive end Vic Beasley, who leads the country with nine sacks. At 6-foot-3 225 pounds, Beasley could be considered light for an edge rusher, but he makes up for it with a lethal first step. He has used an array of moves to get past offensive tackles and is someone the Noles will have to account for whenever he’s on the field.
Interestingly, the Tigers get great pressure without having to blitz very often. That is a huge luxury for Venables because he can mix man and zone schemes to confuse the quarterback.
However, this week, the Tigers face one of the hottest quarterbacks in the country in Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman quarterback has been remarkable in the five games he has played in his college career. His intelligence, quick release, and pure athleticism will make it difficult for the Tigers to sack Winston Saturday night.
Thus far, the Seminoles have held up well in pass protection, and Winston has shown a propensity to use his check downs as the pressure closes in on him. If he’s given time to work through his progressions, he can be flat out unstoppable. However, if Clemson can push the pocket and get his feet moving, they have a chance of slowing down the Seminoles’ signal caller.
The Clemson front four could very well be the most important unit on the field this weekend. Pressure Winston and they have a great chance of winning the biggest ACC game ever. Give him time and look out.
B.L. is an ACC Football writer for Rant Sports and can be followed on Twitter @coachlip or on Google.