Clemson Defense Has Reason To Chirp, But Work Still To Do

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The exclamation point it put on its 2014 season evidently has at least one member of the Clemson defense feeling froggy. Linebacker Ben Boulware replied to an ESPN tweet about Samaje Perine with a playful reminder of the outcome the last time the Oklahoma running back took the field.

The Tigers smashed the Sooners in December’s Citrus Bowl, 40-6, with the Clemson defense holding Oklahoma scoreless for the first three-and-a-half quarters. Perine finished with 134 yards, 72 of which were gained in the fourth quarter with the outcome no longer in doubt. Boulware finished with four tackles, was in on a tackle for loss, recovered a fumble and grabbed an interception.

Members of the Clemson defense have reason to chirp beyond simply the Citrus Bowl smackdown, but the Tigers are faced with proving their mettle all over again without Vic Beasley. The All-American defensive end is off to the NFL, one of seven starters gone from last year’s Clemson defense.

Clemson’s pursuit of an ACC championship and possible berth in the College Football Playoff hinges on the continued progress of a defense that was once one of the nation’s most maligned. With the arrival of coordinator Brent Venables — fittingly, hired away from Oklahoma — the Clemson defense is far removed from giving up 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

The Tigers boasted the nation’s No. 3 scoring defense in 2014, allowing fewer than 17 points per game. Clemson would have to play 17 quarters to give up 70 points now, based on that average.

How well Venables’ group copes with the loss of so much talent, especially Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett, may be as much of an undertaking for the coordinator as rebuilding the defense in the wake of the Orange Bowl debacle.

Next man up, Kevin Dodd told Pete Iacobelli of the Associated Press.

“We lost some great players, but we had some pretty great players behind those great players. I feel like we’re going to fill in and do well.”

Indeed, the mark of a truly outstanding unit is the ability to cycle in new starters without missing a beat. Tigers such as Boulware and Dodd carrying the load without Corey Crawford, Beasley or Jarrett must buoy the Clemson defense in a potentially historic year.

Clemson’s new starters have time to acclimate, opening the season against FCS opponent Wofford and Sun Belt member Appalachian State. While Michigan can tell Clemson just how badly the Mountaineers can derail a season that opens with national title aspirations, the Tigers will enjoy a considerable talent edge in that one.

But starting in Week 3 with a Thursday night road game against ACC counterpart Louisville, Clemson embarks on a daunting, three-game stretch that will help define the Tigers’ Playoff credentials. The Tigers host Notre Dame as part of the Fighting Irish’s partnership with the ACC, then take on reigning Orange Bowl and ACC Coastal champion Georgia Tech.

Venables gets just one week to prepare the Clemson defense for Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense. And, at more than 37 points per game, Tech’s was the most potent of those three offenses, though all averaged over 30 an outing last season.

Should the Tigers emerge from that stretch unscathed, back-to-back road games at Miami and an always treacherous trip to NC State lead up to the showdown with Florida State. Either the Seminoles or Tigers have won the ACC Atlantic every season, starting in 2009.

Should it handled its business there, the Clemson defense will have a whole lot more to chirp about.