The Clemson Defense Continues to Play at Elite Level

The Clemson defense was thought to maybe take step down from its recent dominance this season. Unfortunately, for opponents, that has not been the case.

The consensus in the offseason was the Clemson defense would take a step back after losing so many veterans off of last year’s team. Four games into the 2019 season and Brent Venables’ unit is disproving that notion with authority. Despite losing a host of talented veterans from that side of the ball, the Tigers rank in the top ten in the nation in fewest yards allowed and scoring defense.

Clemson Defense Once Again Among Nation’s Best

There is still a lot of football left to be played in 2019, but so far the Clemson defense has been dominant. One caveat to their impressive numbers is that they haven’t faced the most dynamic offenses so far in 2019. Texas A&M is the highest-ranked among the Tiger’s opponents in both scoring and total offense. The Aggies are 50th in points and 46th in yards per game. They were held well under their averages in both categories when they visited Clemson Memorial Stadium in week two. This Clemson unit is also a big reason why their opponents rank low in offensive categories. The Tigers are still loaded with top of the line talent. The newer players have simply picked up where last year’s veterans left off in terms of on-field production.

Safety Net

There are multiple names that have stood out over the first quarter of the season for the Clemson defense. The standout group so far has been the secondary. The Tigers had all four of last season’s main contributors at safety return. Those guys have all made an impact. Nolan Turner, Tanner Muse, and K’Von Wallace have each had moments of brilliance on the back end of the defense. Turner has been the steady hand guiding this unit, he just seems to always be where he is needed, and rarely makes mental errors. The junior has four passes defended and a forced fumble on the year.

Muse has also tightened up his game in terms of avoiding mental lapses. In the past, he could sometimes get out of position and allow openings for opponent’s big plays. That hasn’t been the case to start his senior year. He has been a big playmaker instead. Further, Muse leads the Tigers with two interceptions this season. Wallace also has a knack for big plays. While he only has four career interceptions, he has proven to be dangerous when he gets the ball. The senior has averaged 45 yards per return and took one back 66 yards for a score last weekend. This veteran group is leading the Clemson defense, and they are a big reason why it’s ranked among the nation’s best once again.

Star Man

Isaiah Simmons has wasted little in announcing himself as this season’s headline player on defense. He currently leads the team in tackles. The senior linebacker is both athletic and physical. This kind of size, strength, speed, and agility rarely comes packaged all in one. He has shown both the range and instincts to cover a lot of ground and make plays from sideline to sideline. He is a big reason why, despite losing most of the front seven from 2018, this unit is still allowing less than 100 yards on the ground.

Simmons is built to wreak havoc at the next level. For now, he will settle for disrupting ACC offenses while trying to lead his team back to the College Football Playoff.  He switched positions a few times early in his career, trying to find his best fit. Now he has settled in at outside linebacker and is becoming one of the country’s best defenders. Simmons has two sacks to go along with his 33 tackles.

A New Tradition

One of the big reasons why the Tigers are holding opponents to just 10 points per game is how well they’ve fared in the red zone. This Clemson defense has created a new tradition of stifling opponents scoring chances even when they have the ball deep in Tiger territory. In each of their three contests with power five opponents, this unit has had at least one defensive stand in which they have allowed no points despite being inside their own ten-yard line. Twice they have ended scoring threats with interceptions, once with a fumble, and once on downs. This team is difficult to move the ball against so adding this piece has made the Clemson defense complete.

Moving Forward

The high rankings nationally in defensive statistics have become commonplace for coach Venables’ unit. Their numbers are likely to get better as this season progresses. The Clemson defense will face only one team, Wake Forest, who is among the top 35 nationally in total offense. The Demon Deacons are ranked 12th, surprisingly ahead of the Tigers own high powered offense at 15th.

Next up is a trip to Chapel Hill to face the North Carolina Tar Heels, who are lead by a true freshman quarterback. The Tar Heels are averaging just 25 points a contest, and have lost two in a row. With a young signal-caller on the other side, the Tigers will look to be aggressive and force some mistakes. There are veteran playmakers in the secondary, and they have some star power in Simmons. The youth in the front seven is learning and growing each week. As they get better, this Clemson defense will likely get even scarier.

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