Preview: Picking up pace, cutting down on big plays on Tigers' docket

Clemson football - defensive coordinator Brent Venables

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson football - defensive coordinator Brent Venables

Editor's note: This is our quick outlook for the Tigers from the Independent Mail college football preview...

INSIDE THE TIGERS

Coach: Dabo Swinney (40-21, 27-12 ACC in 4-plus seasons).

Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.

Key returnees: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Rod McDowell, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Martavis Bryant, LT Brandon Thomas, DE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett, WLB Spencer Shuey, SLB Quandon Christian, FS Travis Blanks, PK Chandler Catanzaro.

2012 season: 11-2 overall, 7-1 ACC.

2012 bowl game: Won 25-24 over No. 9 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Georgia 8 p.m.

Sep. 7 S.C. State 12:30 p.m.

Sep. 19 at N.C. State* 7:30 p.m.

Sep. 28 Wake Forest* TBA

Oct. 5 at Syracuse* TBA

Oct. 12 Boston College* TBA

Oct. 19 Florida State* TBA

Oct. 26 at Maryland* TBA

Nov. 2 at Virginia* TBA

Nov. 14 Georgia Tech* 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 23 The Citadel TBA

Nov. 30 at South Carolina TBA

*Denotes ACC game

COVER THREE

1. Going fast(er)

Chad Morris came to Clemson riding on the idea of running 80 plays per game with his no-huddle offense. In year one, they ran 75 per game, but just a season later, the Tigers pushed the pace to 82 plays per. The finish, leaving a top-10 LSU defense gassed in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, has him thinking more — over 90 a game. Too lofty a goal? Clemson ran an even 100 against the Bayou Bengals to close out 2012. Last season, the Marshall Thundering Herd paced the nation hitting 90.5 plays per game, but the most in a BCS conference was 83, from Arizona.

2. Cutting down on the big play

Learning a new defense, a veteran Clemson secondary never really was fully comfortable last season. The Tigers gave up more 20-yard-plus pass plays (45) than 92 other FBS teams, finishing in the lower-third in the ACC (eighth). They finished out of the top-50 in pass defense (81st) for the first time since 2001. Though much younger this season, Swinney is confident improvement will come in the secondary after looking through last year’s tape. He chalks up 70 percent of the Tigers’ big plays to pre-snap alignment issues — and another year in the scheme will cut that down.

3. Growing up

Last year’s team at times went up-and-down with its sophomore-heavy lean, but in a year’s time, Clemson now returns an ACC-leading 55 lettermen. Underclassmen-turned-upperclassmen No. 1 on the depth chart in ’13 include the starting receiver trio (Sammy Watkins, Charone Peake and Adam Humphries), two on the o-line (left guard option of David Beasley/Kalon Davis and right tackle Gifford Timothy), the entire d-line, middle linebacker (Stephone Anthony) and three of four spots in the secondary. With only eight seniors on the Tigers’ two-deep, leadership from the junior class will be counted on.

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