Clemson made expected defensive improvements, with unexpected stars

Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley celebrates sacking North Carolina State's Mike Glennon during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley celebrates sacking North Carolina State's Mike Glennon during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

Improvement was expected in Brent Venables’ first season in TigerTown, and by the final tallies, that’s just what Clemson fans got.

The Tigers bested their ’11 rankings in scoring defense (46th from 81st), rushing defense (58th from 82nd), pass efficiency defense (62nd from 73rd), sacks (23rd from 76th) and total defense (63rd from 71st), but showing the more offensive college football game in ’12, gave up 1.8 more yards per game overall.

But in many ways, they should have, given the competition level faced.

Clemson met one top-25 offense (Florida State, No. 20) and seven ranked 80th or lower for an average of 73.3. In 2011, they matched-up against a 63.5 average total offense, and their advantage in ACC play this time around was not facing Chad Morris and co., as the nation's No. 2 total ‘D’ FSU faced a 61.5 offensive ranking average.

In scoring, the Tigers allowed 4.5 points less than 2011 (24.8), while giving up about as much passing yards (+22.8) as they cut down on in rushing (-20.2).

Keying that scoring ‘D’ improvement was better red zone defense and less red zone defense chances.

Category '12 Clemson (Ranking) '11 Clemson (Ranking)
Scoring Defense 24.8 PPG (46) 29.3 PPG (81)
Total Defense 396.2 YPG (63) 394.4 YPG (71)
Rushing Defense 155.9 YPG (58) 176.1 YPG (82)
Passing Defense 240.3 YPG (71) 217.5 YPG (50)
Sacks Per Game 2.6 (23) 2.4 (76)
Pass Efficiency Defense (Lower number is good) 131.2 (62) 133.5 (73)

Opponents averaged 3.7 red zone trips a game last season, scoring 85 percent of the time (83rd nationally), as opposed to 3.4 per and a 75 percent scoring rate (22nd nationally) this season. In touchdowns, Clemson surrendered six 55.8 percent of the time in the red zone (29-52) in ’11 to 52.3 percent (23-44) in ’12. The Tigers also finished in the top-25 in third down defense, holding teams to 34 percent on conversions.

In turnovers, the two units were identical, Venables’ group recovered 10 fumbles and picked off 13 passes to Kevin Steele’s bringing in 14 interceptions and nine fumbles.

Yards per play (YPP) is another area equal season-to-season, at 5.6 per given up, but the YPP margin changed from 0.2 to 0.7 over the year because of offensive improvement.

The most improved aspect over the season came in the pass rush, averaging 3.8 sacks per game to finish in the top-25 in the nation (23rd – 2.6) – edging a d-line with second-round NFL draft pick Andre Branch (76th – 2.4 last season).

Sophomore defensive end Vic Beasley and senior Malliciah Goodman led the surge, with 13 sacks combined past midseason.

Midseason also marked a turning point for junior linebacker Spencer Shuey, who averaged a team-high, by far, 5.4 snaps per tackle starting the final seven games and finishing second in tackles overall (93). Senior Tig Willard started every game he was healthy (12) to lead the Tigers in tackles (95) and tackles for loss (10.5).

In the secondary, sophomore corner Garry Peters led the team in snaps per pass defended (58), with nickelback Travis Blanks not far behind (70.4). Rashard Hall was the other sub-100 in the stat (97), with 9.5 snaps per tackle as well.

In tackles for loss, Beasley had 36 snaps per TFL (8), with Grady Jarrett the next nearest (60.2 – 8.5) among main contributors.

The biggest drop-off in production and playing time came with Corico Wright, who started 11-of-14 games in ’11 and 1-of-13 in ’12, with 534 less snaps – 30 tackles this season to 80 last (He made the most of them though, at 5.4 snaps per tackle as opposed to 8.7 in ’11).

On 21 Clemson turnovers, the defense responded to surrender 2.4 points per on them.

2012 Offense Analysis: Clemson's season-to-season high marks were across the board under Chad Morris

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Comments » 2

TigerNE writes:

This just reinforces (for one thing but not the only) the need for better talent AND execution within the secondary, yes?

BrandonRink writes:

in response to TigerNE:

This just reinforces (for one thing but not the only) the need for better talent AND execution within the secondary, yes?

It was definitely the weakpoint of the Clemson D this season. It was also a spot where injuries hurt depth.

Will be a spot to watch with a new coach, some players working back from injury and some early-enrollee/prep school players coming in next season.

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