Dabo Swinney says he'll take all the defense-dominated victories he can get

'I love it - I'll take 11 more games just like that'

Clemson's Shaq Lawson tackles N.C. State's Shadrack Thornton during the second quarter at Carter Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Shaq Lawson tackles N.C. State's Shadrack Thornton during the second quarter at Carter Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Score enough points to win, and let the defense do the rest.

Style points and gaudy offensive numbers are optional.

It's a winning formula Dabo Swinney will be happy to ride all the way to an ACC championship, and even to Pasadena, should the opportunity to present itself.

The third-ranked Tigers, 3-0, may be coming off a less-than-artistic victory as they prepare for their ACC home opener this weekend against Wake Forest.

But you wouldn't know it from what Swinney had to say at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.

"I love it - I'll take 11 more games just like that," Swinney said. "When you play great defense, it's like in basketball - it's not always going to go in the bucket for you. But if you play great defense, you keep yourself in the game. Then sooner or later, if you keep getting the ball to a good scorer, they're going to get it going. Sooner or later.

"It's awesome. Our defense is just getting better and better. We're not where we need to be. But our guys are hungry, and they want it."

Between the second-quarter touchdown drive that put N.C. State on top 7-6 and the late-game 23-play drive that cut into Clemson's commanding 26-7 lead, the Tiger defense allowed the Wolfpack just five first downs, recorded three three-and-outs, and had a game-turning takeaway.

Clemson's defense allowed just three of 16 third-down conversions.

Swinney sees those as difference-making, winning statistics - the result of across-the-board defensive improvement.

"Our coaches and players are just doing a tremendous job," Swinney said. "We have more knowledge than we've had, and we're healthier, especially on the back side. Getting Martin Jenkins back has been a huge plus for us...and Bashaud Breeland - it's just like night and day. He looks like he did when he was a freshman. He's healthy and confident, and it's the same thing with Darius Robinson and Garry Peters.

"And I really like our two safeties. This is their first year (as starters), and they're still growing."

Swinney said the Tigers' top defensive priority headed into the second quarter of the season is to develop reliable depth at the two safety spots behind Robert Smith and Travis Blanks.

"That's an area where we really need to grow," he said. "We've got guys, but we need to develop our depth by playing them and giving them opportunities. They need to go out there, play through mistakes, and learn and grow.

"As we go through the course of the season, we're going to have to have help there. Robert and Travis, they can't play 70 snaps a game and hold up. That's the area that we need to improve most during the next month with our team."

Swinney said the players on the Tigers' defensive front "are becoming the strength of our team."

"Pressure, especially when you have depth, creates problems for people," Swinney said. "Great effort combined with great pressure creates turnovers. We have a very good situation there, and everybody's working hard. They tap in and tap out, and just go play."

Meanwhile, Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey are delivering a high level of performance at the linebacker spots. Both earned player-of-the-week honors for their performances against N.C. State, after combining for 25 tackles.

"Both those guys are playing at a really high level," Swinney said. "Spencer has picked up where he left off last year, and Stephone has taken another step forward."

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Comments » 1

TigerNE writes:

I'm glad Dabo is positive about the secondary. Hopefully they continue to improve. But if Blanks doesn't pick it up a lot, Dabo and Venables need to be quick to react.

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