Dabo Swinney has one standard he looks to when analyzing his defense: points.
Brent Venables, when hired last January, promised a more aggressive defense, and in turn, Swinney got just what he wanted.
Clemson jumped 54 spots in the national ranks in sacks (76th to 22nd) from ’11 to ’12 – six in the Chick-fil-A Bowl alone. In scoring defense, the Tiger ‘D’ moved up from 81st to 48th, improving by 4.4 points per game.
As you might expect, neither coach is satisfied.
In 2012, Clemson surrendered more 20-yard-plus carries (24) than their offense managed (21), and allowed 45 passes of 20-plus yards. The vast majority of those should have been prevented, says Swinney.
“70 percent of big plays (surrendered) were pre-snap,” Swinney said. “We were beat before the ball was even snapped. That’s part of that transition growing up in year two – really understanding and being able to apply it on the field.”
“Our guys have to be better than they were a year ago,” Venables said. “Continue to do what you have been doing and you’ll get the same results.
“We want to be a couple games better so we need to change what we’re doing and I think we will.”
His confidence in achieving lofty goals in 2013 stems from depth, and competitive depth, on the d-line and at linebacker.
“Our front-seven is more solidified,” said Venables. “We still have to work, but that part, I feel we have a chance to be pretty solid. That’s the biggest difference. If it’s night and day, you’re splitting hairs, but we’re a lot further along development-wise, fundamentally understanding, tough, physical – all of it.”
Transitioning into summer workouts, without coach supervision, the focus shifts to the players’ discipline.
“Greatest concern? Our guys' willingness to work all summer on their own,” he said, “and manage things and continue to get better. I don’t assume anything. I’m hopeful that they’ll work.
“Work on their weaknesses and new guys coming in, transitioning – all of our guys are going to have to help them coming in. If we do that, we’ll have a chance to be pretty good. If we don’t, we won’t.”
And what he observed in a glimpse this spring has him ready to get back to work this fall.
“I like the attitude of our guys on both sides of the ball,” Venables said. “We’ve had great competition all spring. We got a group of guys who are hungry and feel like they have a lot to prove. That aren’t satisfied with where they’re at.
“My experience is when guys have that type of attitude they’re willing to commit themselves and put the work in. Until they do it – we’ll see. I believe they will.”