Sizing up the ACC: Disruptive Clemson d-line poised for big 2014

Football - DeShawn Williams and Grady Jarrett

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football - DeShawn Williams and Grady Jarrett

The potential – oh, the potential – must have third-year Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables salivating.

His entire defensive line is back – the interior line all returning for a second-straight season – off from one of the most disruptive units in all of college football last season.

Clemson paced the nation in tackles for loss with 12 to spare (123) – the only team to average over nine per game (9.46).

Vic Beasley’s breakout season made up nearly 20 percent of that total (23 TFL), leading the ACC onto first-team all-conference honors with 13 sacks. It was only his second season playing defensive end, opting to refine his skillset and rebuff NFL first-round projections for a senior-year return.

Beasley enters 2014 as the nation’s leading returner in sacks (13), sacks per game (1), tackles for loss and tackles for loss per game (1.77). His six pass breakups are good enough for top-10 best among returning ACC peers.

The light bulb flipped on about midseason into Venables’ first coaching stint in Clemson, as over the last 20 games, only Virginia Tech has matched the Tigers in sacks per game (3.3) – top-10 nationally over the last two seasons.

Clemson alone has half of the ACC’s double-digit TFL returners on the d-line: Beasley, Corey Crawford (10.5), Grady Jarrett (10.5), Shaq Lawson (10).

The Tigers, Hokies and Florida State Seminoles are among six teams to finish in the top-20 each of the last two seasons.

Counting conference newbie Louisville, five conference teams finished in the top-20 in the nation in TFL – 10 in the top-40 and 11 in the top-50.

The Cards were tops nationally in total and rush defense last season, but face replacing six starters.

A look at the leading returners (2013 stats)…

Sacks

1) Clemson DE Vic Beasley – 13

2) Louisville DE Lorenzo Mauldin – 9.5

3) Virginia DE Eli Harold – 8.5

Tackles for Loss

1) Clemson DE Vic Beasley – 23

2) Virginia DE Eli Harold – 15

3) GT DT Adam Gotsis – 14.5

Projecting the ACC D-lines

(If you haven’t been around with us before, the rankings are based on production/field impact – not a straight measure of their abilities like a NFL draft board. We’re looking at not only the player’s ability, but the surrounding cast that can help him get the W's and numbers.)

Tier 1

1) Clemson – Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Corey Crawford

Outlook: The message will be staying hungry, and with veterans across the board, they should improve on already impressive ’13 numbers.

2) Florida State – Mario Edwards, Chris Casher, Eddie Goldman

Outlook: The NFL pipeline here isn’t running dry anytime soon with junior Mario Edwards leading another talented bunch. He had 9.5 tackles for loss last season and is a projected first-team All-ACC rep across from Beasley by Phil Steele.

3) Virginia Tech – Luther Maddy, Corey Marshall

Outlook: Virginia Tech is another ACC program that’s been able to reload a la Clemson and FSU on the d-line, but the Hokies do lose over half of their 2013 sacks (54.2). Senior Luther Maddy led VT with 6.5 sacks and 13.5 TFL last season. Fellow DE Corey Marshall returned after sitting out last season due to personal reasons, jumping back in the fray this spring to earn defensive MVP honors.

Tier 2

4) Louisville – Lorenzo Mauldin

Outlook: Former Georgia DC Todd Grantham is in charge now in Louisville, taking the keys of a pretty good machine of late. The Cardinals were second only to Stanford in sacks last season (43), increasing their total by 21 season-to-season. Lorenzo Mauldin is tops among the returners after 9.5 sacks and 12.5 TFL.

5) Virginia – Eli Harold

Outlook: The Hoos improved their season-to-season sack total by 11 in 2013, and they return the key cogs that got them there. Back are 21 of 22.5 d-line sacks – a good chunk of TFL and bring in consensus top-15 d-lineman Andrew Brown.

6) N.C. State – Art Norman, Thomas Teal

Outlook: Like Virginia, they have their playmakers back (17.5 of 18 d-line sacks), but are looking to make more plays (just 20 team sacks).

7) Miami – Ufomba Kamalu, Anthony Chickillo

Outlook: Miami’s line play was unspectacular – and the unit as a whole, not great last season. In a wide-open Coastal, some of the talent equating to results here could make a difference.

8) Syracuse – Robert Welsh

Outlook: Scott Shafer’s clubs are aggressive, if anything defensively (No. 19 in sacks last season), but the Orange look to replace interior stalwart Jay Bromley.

9) Georgia Tech – Adam Gotsis

Outlook: First year back in a 4-3 scheme under Ted Roof, the Techsters improved across the board. They lose one of the ACC’s top sack-threats (Jeremiah Attaochu), but return one of the better interior linemen (Adam Gotsis, 5.5 sacks, 14.5 TFL).

10) Pittsburgh

Outlook: Pittsburgh loses the Lombardi, Outland, Bednarik and Nagurski award winner all in one player: defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The Panthers have had a top-35 total defense each of the last seven seasons, but they lose three of their four ’13 starters.

11) Boston College – Brian Mihalik

Outlook: BC’s d-line was dead-last in sacks in 2012 (6) and jumped into the top-20 last year (35). They lose the primary players in that year-to-improvement, however.

12) North Carolina – Mikey Bart

Outlook: UNC returns a league-low ’13 sacks (7.7 percent) thanks to Kareem Martin and his 11.5 being out the door.

Tier 3

13) Duke – Jonathan Woodruff, Jordan DeWalt-Indijo

Outlook: Duke hasn’t cracked the top-90 in TFL or top-50 sacks over the last three seasons. The highest total defense ranking was No. 61 in 2009.

14) Wake Forest – Desmond Floyd

Outlook: The Deacs lose the playmakers off a solid 2013 defensive unit – 14 sacks and 30 TFL gone between Nikita Whitlock and Zach Thompson.

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Comments » 19

CstandsforCowtown writes:

Left a lot of money on the table. Wonder if that affects his play this year.

fasttiger44#293363 writes:

I have said it before and I will say it again. Based on last year's defensive performance, if we improve marginally, with the secondary foremost on everyone's mind, we may be the best defensive team in the country. We were really good last year with the secondary being our soft spot but, with the new guys (Alexandra) primarily, we should be able to stop anyone's running game and passing against us won't be a "day at the beach" if you get my drift. On third and 3 it might as well be third and 13 because nobody will be able to get those yards very easy and most teams will not be able to get them at all with out some type of quick slant or something like that. I am excited to see just how good our defense may actually be by mid-season. Of course, we need to be in mid-season form when we visit the "bull doggies" the first game or it will come back and the darn dog will bite us in our hind end and draw blood.

lhaselden writes:

If Blanks and company can handle the LB/Nickel spot I think Steward and Anthony will dominate opposing Os, playing behind a DL that might require more than 1 double team. I just learned a month ago that Grady Jarret played hurt all last season? Now he is healthy, Steward is healthy, I look forward to watching our D play this year. There could be 4 All Americans on our D this year.
Vic Beasley, Jarrett, Anthony, Alexander( freshman all american) and possibly Steward. .....

TheTruth46 writes:

in response to fasttiger44#293363:

I have said it before and I will say it again. Based on last year's defensive performance, if we improve marginally, with the secondary foremost on everyone's mind, we may be the best defensive team in the country. We were really good last year with the secondary being our soft spot but, with the new guys (Alexandra) primarily, we should be able to stop anyone's running game and passing against us won't be a "day at the beach" if you get my drift. On third and 3 it might as well be third and 13 because nobody will be able to get those yards very easy and most teams will not be able to get them at all with out some type of quick slant or something like that. I am excited to see just how good our defense may actually be by mid-season. Of course, we need to be in mid-season form when we visit the "bull doggies" the first game or it will come back and the darn dog will bite us in our hind end and draw blood.

Gosh...and they did all this against a most difficult schedule. Remove FSU, UGA, and SC...you could open a pastry shop with the other 9 opponents. Cream puffs for everyone. Guess we'll see how great they are in the opener. They might be as good as you say, or they might spend the entire afternoon getting run over by and chasing Gurley.

harryD writes:

Gurley prefers running over garnet and black. ...running all over them.

TheTruth46 writes:

in response to harryD:

Gurley prefers running over garnet and black. ...running all over them.

If I'm not mistaken Hairy...Gurley had more yardage against your puddytats last year. He only carried the ball 12 times against Clemmons, for 154 yards...12.8 yard avg. He had 30 carries against SC, for 132 yards...4.4 yard avg. Now, tell me again who he ran all over. Get your facts straight Hairy before running your mouth. BTW...he scored twice against Clemmons...once against SC.

harryD writes:

But they busted your coot a $ $...know that jack!

TheTruth46 writes:

in response to harryD:

But they busted your coot a $ $...know that jack!

That they did ....and we blistered your uringe puddytat arse...again. Know that Hairy Hairy. Curious about the D...I can think of several words that would be fitting of you.

clemvol writes:

in response to TheTruth46:

If I'm not mistaken Hairy...Gurley had more yardage against your puddytats last year. He only carried the ball 12 times against Clemmons, for 154 yards...12.8 yard avg. He had 30 carries against SC, for 132 yards...4.4 yard avg. Now, tell me again who he ran all over. Get your facts straight Hairy before running your mouth. BTW...he scored twice against Clemmons...once against SC.

Your facts are correct. Clemson getting beat by an always "runner up" team is depressing. My facts are correct.

33dtb writes:

......"Disruptive Clemson d-line poised for big 2014"..............

when we can say that about the O-Line, we'll get back to beating Carolina regularly....

TheTruth46 writes:

in response to clemvol:

Your facts are correct. Clemson getting beat by an always "runner up" team is depressing. My facts are correct.

So sorry to hear you are feeling so depressed my friend. Try to not think about a 6th loss in a row. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

fasttiger44#293363 writes:

in response to clemvol:

Your facts are correct. Clemson getting beat by an always "runner up" team is depressing. My facts are correct.

Yes, you are right about Gurley but, remember that 75 of those yards was on one carry. He did get the yards, no matter how he got them. Bet he don't get that many this year. And as far as people complaining about who we played or didn't play, you play who is on your schedule, good, bad or indifferent. How many yards did the SEC's leading rusher get against us as we watch our team fumble the game away?

clemvol writes:

in response to TheTruth46:

So sorry to hear you are feeling so depressed my friend. Try to not think about a 6th loss in a row. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

I'll take those asprin and you can continue to buy your clothes ( 2nd hand ) at the Goodwill.

TheTruth46 writes:

in response to fasttiger44#293363:

Yes, you are right about Gurley but, remember that 75 of those yards was on one carry. He did get the yards, no matter how he got them. Bet he don't get that many this year. And as far as people complaining about who we played or didn't play, you play who is on your schedule, good, bad or indifferent. How many yards did the SEC's leading rusher get against us as we watch our team fumble the game away?

Even if you take away the 75 yarder...Gurley still averaged 7 yds per carry against Clemmons. If you are giddy about the SEC's leading rusher being limited in yardage, the more important question is...how many points did his team put on the board against Clemmons, and don't whine about turnovers. You got spanked. Clemmervile...you're right about the clothes, and I saw you leaving with a cart full of goodies from the same place.

YabbaDaboDooDoo writes:

in response to fasttiger44#293363:

I have said it before and I will say it again. Based on last year's defensive performance, if we improve marginally, with the secondary foremost on everyone's mind, we may be the best defensive team in the country. We were really good last year with the secondary being our soft spot but, with the new guys (Alexandra) primarily, we should be able to stop anyone's running game and passing against us won't be a "day at the beach" if you get my drift. On third and 3 it might as well be third and 13 because nobody will be able to get those yards very easy and most teams will not be able to get them at all with out some type of quick slant or something like that. I am excited to see just how good our defense may actually be by mid-season. Of course, we need to be in mid-season form when we visit the "bull doggies" the first game or it will come back and the darn dog will bite us in our hind end and draw blood.

Best defense in the country.... you don't watch any football except Clemson do you?

fasttiger44#293363 writes:

in response to TheTruth46:

If I'm not mistaken Hairy...Gurley had more yardage against your puddytats last year. He only carried the ball 12 times against Clemmons, for 154 yards...12.8 yard avg. He had 30 carries against SC, for 132 yards...4.4 yard avg. Now, tell me again who he ran all over. Get your facts straight Hairy before running your mouth. BTW...he scored twice against Clemmons...once against SC.

2 plays accounted for about 110 of Gurley's yards against us. We shut Georgia's high powered offense down and they had to throw the ball to get anything. Why do you think Gurley only had a few carries. Because he couldn't get any 5 or 6 yard carries so they went to the air. 2 of the 3 teams you mentioned we shut them down with our defense. FSU was the only team that put it on us. With our entire front 7 coming back we will stop anybody's running game. Wait and see. And poor old SC will get embarrassed late November this year. They have no chance to ever be in the game after about 5 minutes after it starts.

YabbaDaboDooDoo writes:

in response to fasttiger44#293363:

2 plays accounted for about 110 of Gurley's yards against us. We shut Georgia's high powered offense down and they had to throw the ball to get anything. Why do you think Gurley only had a few carries. Because he couldn't get any 5 or 6 yard carries so they went to the air. 2 of the 3 teams you mentioned we shut them down with our defense. FSU was the only team that put it on us. With our entire front 7 coming back we will stop anybody's running game. Wait and see. And poor old SC will get embarrassed late November this year. They have no chance to ever be in the game after about 5 minutes after it starts.

Couldn't get any 5 or 6 yard carries? UGA got 222 yards on 41 carries. Do the math: 5.4 yards per carry. And that includes sack yardage. In fact, UGA outgained Clemson in total offense with 545 yards. If it wasn't for Tajh Boyd having 1 of the best games of his career, you would've lost that game at home. I'd stop crowing about how your defense is going to shut UGA down b/c you didn't come close to doing it last year.

TheTruth46 writes:

in response to fasttiger44#293363:

2 plays accounted for about 110 of Gurley's yards against us. We shut Georgia's high powered offense down and they had to throw the ball to get anything. Why do you think Gurley only had a few carries. Because he couldn't get any 5 or 6 yard carries so they went to the air. 2 of the 3 teams you mentioned we shut them down with our defense. FSU was the only team that put it on us. With our entire front 7 coming back we will stop anybody's running game. Wait and see. And poor old SC will get embarrassed late November this year. They have no chance to ever be in the game after about 5 minutes after it starts.

I've been hearing that continual bragging about Clemmons for several years. Shut down UGA? Good luck with that. It's very evident you don't watch much college football. Please don't run and hide after late November. Six will be a nice number.

fasttiger44#293363 writes:

6 is a wonderful number and Clemson has beaten SC on several occasions 6 times in a row. Remember from 1998 thru 2008 we beat SC 9 out of 11 times. That's pretty good if you ask me. SC got lucky to beat us the last 2 years and their luck has run out when they visit Death Valley this year.

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