CLEMSON — Clemson entered its shortest preparation week of the season Sunday with an even thinner secondary than usual.
Coach Dabo Swinney announced that junior cornerback Darius Robinson sustained a fracture in his left ankle during Saturday’s 38-17 win over Virginia Tech and will undergo surgery Tuesday. Robinson could return in time for a bowl game; the No.14 Tigers (6-1, 3-1 ACC) became bowl-eligible with the victory.
For Thursday’s 7:30 p.m., ESPN-televised game at Wake Forest, Clemson will use three primary cornerbacks – versatile senior Xavier Brewer and sophomores Bashaud Breeland. In addition, the defensive staff will challenge redshirt freshman Cortez Davis, who has 15 defensive snaps this season.
An emergency plan would involve cross-training sophomore wide receiver Adam Humphries or using freshman safety/nickel back Travis Blanks.
“We’re incredibly thin at cornerback with Darius and Martin Jenkins (who will redshirt with a groin injury) out,” Swinney said. “As long as those three and Cortez stay healthy we’ll be in good shape. Cortez has been making improvement. He just hasn’t had a lot of opportunity. His reps are going to go way up and hopefully his progress will continue to come along.”
Robinson was benched for poor play at Boston College and didn’t play a defensive snap against Georgia Tech, but regained his starting role over Peters during the recent open date. Brewer’s move to corner will leave Blanks and seniors Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks (who had two interceptions, including a 74-yard touchdown return Saturday) as the primary safeties.
Clemson reconvened Sunday, normally an off-day, for meetings and a light practice. Monday and Tuesday will be practice days, albeit slightly shorter than normal, because of the short week. Wednesday will be a travel day to Winston-Salem, and Thursday will be a normal game day.
Swinney said the Virginia Tech win was the best defensive effort of the season and the worst offensive day.
Clemson had just 295 yards of total offense – 230 below its season average of 525 – and had too many empty drives.
“There were too many negative plays, (five) sacks, a lot of plays that we missed,” he said. “All of the three-and-outs kept our play count down (at 66). Third down (6 of 15) was very average, and we didn’t play our best game up front.”
The offensive line, Swinney said, played its worst game of the season.
“It wasn’t anything schematic,” he said. “We fundamentally and technically didn’t get it done. We’ll challenge our guys to get back on track.”
Junior quarterback Tajh Boyd had his worst passing day of the season as well, completing 12 of 21 passes for 160 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He rushed for 27 yards (77 without sack yardage removed) on 20 carries with two rushing scores.
Swinney said Boyd had trouble getting in a rhythm after being sacked on two of the first three offensive plays.
“We’ve got to continue to stick with fundamentals,” he said. “On mechanics, he was sailing a few balls. He didn’t have his best game but that’s probably to be expected when the offensive line has its worst game too. He played hard, with toughness and guts, made some big runs for us, big throws. A few of those plays we had opportunities to finish and we didn’t, but nothing I saw on film makes me worried for the season going forward.”
Defensively, the Tigers took a step forward, giving up its lowest point total of the season.
“We may not be perfect but we made a lot of plays we didn’t against Georgia Tech,” he said “We’ve gotten better the last three games and had our best day yesterday. Hopefully we’re continuing to grow in confidence. Our guys up front are getting better and better and learning how to play the game. It’s real positive what we’re seeing. Brent (Venables) summed it up best. We’re not Alabama yet, but we have a chance to be a much-improved defense when all is said and done, with a lot of guys coming back for next year.”