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Clemson’s Title Hopes Start on D

By Jim Johnson
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There is simply nowhere to run, or throw, for that matter, against the Tigers.

It doesn’t seem possible. It shouldn’t be possible. How is it possible that Brent Venables keeps one-upping himself?

This may not be his greatest defense of all time -- that 2014 group was from an alternate universe -- but it’s right up there, and it is, somehow, even better than last year’s.

There is simply nowhere to run, or throw for that matter, against the Tigers.

When the All-ACC teams were announced, earlier this week, an astounding eight Clemson defenders were honored. Somehow, it still feels like a few guys may have been snubbed.

Amongst the ones that were not, and the anchors of the defense, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. The pair of interior defenders form one of the most imposing defensive tackle duos that college football has ever seen, as they spearhead college football’s best defensive line.

To their right, Clelin Ferrell, who has compiled the second most sacks in the ACC, this year, has, obviously, emerged as one of the conferences, if not the country’s, premier pass rushers. He and Austin Bryant, opposite one another, have both topped double digit run stuffs and combined for more than 30 tackles for loss.

At linebacker, Dorian O’Daniel has only accentuated the already devastating pass rush, alongside Kendall Joseph, who seems to sniff out the run, and subsequently stop the ball carrier in his tracks, like some sort of higher-level species.

The cupboard isn’t exactly thinning out, either, with J.D. Davis, one of the most sure tacklers there is, and Tre Lamar offering meaningful contributions.

Moving into the secondary, Trayvon Mullen has one of the lowest allowed passer ratings, on throws into his coverage, in the ACC.

Senior Ryan Carter, is, justifiably, developing a reputation as a playmaker in the defensive backfield, in his own right. He has added value because of his versatility moving into the slot, as well.

One, too, could contend that freshman A.J. Terrell, at times, has shown flashes as promising a any in the bunch.

The safeties, Van Smith and Tanner Muse, are the main two starters that don’t really seem to make a lot of headlines. Given the way they are utilized, that’s probably a good thing, in that, whereas they don’t have to come up and make plays on account of the talent up front, they are mostly playing high coverage, preventing balls over the top. It must be working, as denoted by Clemson’s top three ranking in pass defense S&P+.

Coach Swinney is fond of playing the ‘nobody believed in us’ card, whether that’s actually true or not. The fact is, everyone knew Clemson would be a force to be reckoned with, this season, because of the defense, and the benefit of the doubt that Brent Venables has earned, despite having to deal with severe personnel attrition.

There were some early concerns about the offense, but those seem to have been, largely, ironed out. Kelly Bryant has done all in his power to assuage any remaining concerns about his ability as a passer.

In reality though, even if offensive concerns did still exist, there isn’t a team in college football, this season, that Clemson’s defense can’t keep them in a game against.

Only time will tell if Clemson has what it takes to repeat. What is indisputable, is that the defense has earned them the opportunity to try.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP