Having Vic Beasley and co. upfront certainly doesn’t hurt Clemson’s last line of defense.
It’s a secondary that’s had its issues going on three seasons now, making some strides in 2013. The Tigers finished ninth in the ACC in defensive yards per pass in 2011 and 2012, improving to sixth last season (6.9) but giving up seven of 50 yards or more (11th in the conference).
Thanks to the pressure upfront however, Brent Venables’ pass defense ranked No. 3 in the ACC (201 YPG) and top-20 nationally, giving up the second-least touchdowns (14) and picking off the third-most passes (18) in the conference.
Clemson also made the top-20 in pass efficiency defense (114.20).
2013 pass defense v. pass efficiency leaders
1. Florida State – 156.6 YPG/5.1 YPA/93.77 rating
2. Louisville – 170.8 YPG/6 YPA/99.16 rating
3. Virginia Tech – 172.3 YPG/6.2 YPA/101.16 rating
4. Clemson – 200.6 YPG/6.9 YPA/114.20 rating
5. Wake Forest – 224.1 YPG/6.4 YPA/126.8 rating
Returning leaders – Interceptions (DBs)
1. Anthony Harris (Virginia) – 8
2. Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech) – 6
T-3. Brandon Facyson (Virginia Tech) – 5
T-3. Charles Gaines (Louisville) – 5
T-4. Jayron Kearse (Clemson) – 4
T-4. Tracy Howard (Miami) – 4
T-4. Nate Andrews (Florida State) – 4
T-4. Breon Borders (Duke) – 4
T-4. Terell Floyd (Louisville) – 4
Returning leaders – Passes defended (DBs)
1. Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech) – 17
2. Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest) – 15
3. Anthony Harris (Virginia) – 14
4. Brandon Facyson (Virginia Tech) – 13
T-5. Ladarius Gunter (Miami) – 12
T-5. Charles Gaines (Louisville) – 12
Projecting the ACC Defensive Backs
(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.)
1) Virginia Tech
Outlook: Kendall Fuller proved to be every bit worth the hype by leading the ACC in passes defended as a freshman. Fellow freshman All-American Brandon Facyson occupies the other side, while free safety Kyshoen Jarrett is the Hokies’ leading tackler back (71).
2) Florida State
Outlook: No one in the country has really come close to the no-fly zone established by the Seminoles over the last two seasons. No team has topped 300 passing yards (Clemson one of the closest with 290 in 2012 at Tallahassee) – and only nine, over 200 yards, in 28 games. They lose a couple playmakers in Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks, but the talent just reloads at Florida State, led by Jalen Ramsey (former 5-star) and P.J. Williams (10 passes defended)
Outlook: The Cardinals were right up there among the nation’s best last year (No. 4 in pass efficiency D; No. 5 in pass D), losing safety Calvin Pryor as a first-round NFL draft pick. Both starting corners, Terell Floyd and Charles Gaines, rank among the ACC returning leaders in picks and passes defensed.
Outlook: Coming out of spring, Clemson appears to be undergoing a youth movement with redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander and sophomore Cordrea Tankersley your new starting corners. Bashaud Breeland will be missed, but now we’ll see a glimpse of the recruiting hauls of the last couple years. The safeties are solid starting with Robert Smith, who posted 71 tackles last season. After splitting time, Jayron Kearse has some high expectations on him – a Phil Steele All-ACC candidate after four interceptions in his debut. Travis Blanks is set to compete at nickelback returning from a knee injury. This group could very well be the difference between ‘good’ and ‘elite’ for Clemson.
5) Wake Forest
Outlook: The Deacs have had some statsheet-stuffers over the last couple years, but haven’t put it together much as a unit. As a freshman, Merril Noel led the nation in passes defended, but last season, Kevin Johnson paced Wake Forest with nine pass breakups and three interceptions. Wake Forest was third in the ACC in def. yards per pass (6.4) and second in 20-yard-plus passes surrendered (27).
Outlook: Safety Anthony Harris led the nation with eight interceptions, totaling 80 tackles. Maurice Canady held down one corner with eight pass breakups. The Hoos were one of five ACC teams in the top-50 in pass efficiency ‘D’ last season.
Outlook: The ‘Canes had a top-60 pass efficiency ‘D’ and a pass defense rank in the 90s (92) last season. They aren’t lacking for talent with cornerbacks Tracy Howard (4 INTs) and Ladarius Gunter (12 passes defended).
Outlook: The Syracuse secondary was torched by Tajh Boyd (16.9 yards per attempt, 455 yards, 5 TDs, 74 completion percentage), but that wasn’t indicative of their season as a whole. They were firmly middle-of-the-road (No. 57 in YPP/No. 64 in PD/No. 65 in PED), returning the core of their production (leading tackler and interceptions in Durell Eskridge, 78 and 4);
9) North Carolina
Outlook: The Tar Heels secondary made strides last season, losing 17 pass breakups between Tre Boston and Jabari Price. Returning strong safety Dominique Green picked off three passes with five pass breakups in 2013.
10) N.C. State
Outlook: Rising junior DBs Juston Burris and Hakim Jones combined to breakup 14 passes with three interceptions last season. The Wolfpack do lose Dontae Johnson and his 81 tackles after finishing below average in efficiency (No. 68) and top-50 in pass ‘D’ (No. 47).
Outlook: Pitt returns one from a solid starting safety duo – leading tackler Jason Hendricks gone (85) and Michigan transfer Ray Vinopal back (83 tackles, three interceptions, 6 PBUs).
12) Georgia Tech
Outlook: Tech was in the top-four in the ACC in pass defense in 2011 and 2012, but slipped back to 12th last season, giving up 7.4 yards per pass and 245 yards a game. They lose playmaker Jemea Thomas on top of that.
13) Boston College
Outlook: The Eagles have returning experience, but will that equal production? They were a distant last in pass defense (268.3 YPG; 113th) and pass efficiency defense (152.22; 107th) last season.
Outlook: Duke gave up a league-worst 54 20-yards-plus completions in 2013, ranking next-to-last in the ACC in pass defense. No ACC team was thrown on as much as the Blue Devils last year, fielding 460 attempts giving up 25 touchdowns (13th) with 18 interceptions (T-3).