CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney said this week what anyone who has watched a Clemson game this fall is thinking: the Tigers’ defensive line is a work in progress.
“We’ve got some guys who probably aren’t quite ready to be the guys yet, but they are, and that’s OK,” Swinney said. “They’re going to get better. They’ve got good talent.”
Right now, however, that talent isn’t showing up on the field. A young defensive line with only one upperclassman – senior defensive end Malliciah Goodman – has struggled to get pressure on opposing offenses. Entering Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game at Boston College, No.17 Clemson has just four sacks in four games, which ranks 10th in the ACC, just ahead of Virginia and BC (who have three apiece).
Of those four sacks, only two have come from defensive linemen, one each from sophomore defensive tackle DeShawn Williams and sophomore defensive end Vic Beasley. Sophomore corner Bashaud Breeland and senior linebacker Tig Willard have the other two.
Goodman says he is counseling his young teammates and trying to bring them along.
“Mostly talking to them, tell them how it is, getting them to relax,” he said. “They wouldn’t be out there if they weren’t worth anything and couldn’t help us win. They know they have the talent, you just have to be confident in yourself and know you can do the job.”
Goodman needs to carry a bigger load as well. He has 10 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and no sacks. His tackles for loss are tied for second on the roster, but his tackle total is 16th.
“I think I should be that guy,” Goodman said. “My play hasn’t been up to where I’m satisfied with how I’m playing. Just keep working and keep coming along. I don’t want to get too stressed about not doing this, not doing that, and then have a horrible season.”
Clemson players have repeatedly pointed to opponents’ quick passes as a reason for the lack of pressure, a notion Goodman didn’t dispute. He said making teams one-dimensional will help, too.
“(Florida State) had a good balance of running and passing,” he said. “If you can stop the run, you can stop the pass too. You want to make them one-dimensional so they have to rely on the other thing.”
Clearly, though, the lack of experience is showing through. Goodman is the only returning starter from 2011’s line, which featured NFL draft picks Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson, as well as defensive tackle Rennie Moore, who lasted until the Houston Texans’ final roster cut in training camp.
“We’ve got maturing to do,” Swinney said. “We’ve got a lot of teaching to do and there’s nothing better than experience. In understanding the game, that’s what you lose when you lose guys like Branch, Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore. They’d been in a lot of games.”
Kick in the pants: New kickoff rules are making an impact on Clemson’s potent kick return game. The Tigers rank ninth in the ACC, with 12 returns for 208 yards, a 17.3-yard average. Under rules implemented this season, kickoffs have been moved up to the 35-yard line, and any touchback goes to the 25, rather than the 20. This limits kick returns, which are believed to be the most dangerous play in football.
The National Football Foundation reports that touchbacks are occurring about once every 2.5 kickoffs. A year ago, that figure was one for every six kickoffs.