CLEMSON — Across the board, Clemson’s a very similar style of defense to last year. It’s just been more effective in critical moments.
Third-down defense, red zone defense and tackles for loss continue to be a strength. Overall yardage and big plays yielded continue to be problem areas.
But the No. 3-ranked Tigers (3-0, 1-0 ACC) have finished better than in years past. Opponents have scored just one third-quarter touchdown in three games, and all 20 points scored in the fourth quarter were too late to muster a rally, which would be considered “garbage-time” scores.
In statistics compiled by cfbstats.com, opponents have averaged 8.45 yards per rush in the first quarter, but 2.84 yards per carry after that.
“You really like the way we’ve been challenged in different ways the first few weeks,” second-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, “and we’ve for the most part answered the bell when it’s counted the most.”
The individual accolades are up as well. In all of 2012, the Tigers only earned three personal defensive weekly awards: safety Jonathan Meeks against Virginia Tech, defensive end Vic Beasley against N.C. State and defensive back Xavier Brewer against South Carolina.
Three different players were honored alone last week for the 26-14 win over N.C. State: Beasley and linebackers Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony, a particular point of pride for Venables, who tutors the linebackers.
“It’s an awesome honor for all of us, for Clemson to finally be able to get some of that recognition on the defensive side of the ball,” Shuey said. “We’ve gotten it on offense for the last couple of years now, but it’s definitely nice to see people starting to realize we’re trying to bring that dominant defense back to Clemson.”
Others have noticed, like the leader of Clemson’s Homecoming opponent Saturday.
“Clemson is a great example of, if you’re one-dimensional, you’re in trouble,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “If we just go in there and try to throw the football and let these guys rush the passer, it’s going to be really a long day; and vice versa, if you just try to sit the ball on the ground and run it all the time, they’re going to hunker down and beat you up.”
Offensively, Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1) has “presented a lot of different things, play-calling” in four games, according to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
The Demon Deacons’ biggest threat is senior wide receiver Michael Campanaro, whose 187 career catches leads all active ACC players. (Sammy Watkins is second with 158.)
“I think there’s no question we’re going to be in a bowl game this year,” Campanaro said at ACC Media Days in July.
“The offseason workouts have been ramped up with competitiveness,” he added. “This team’s working the hardest since I’ve been at Wake in the offseason. There’s going to be some good things coming this fall.”
One of the ACC’s weakest offenses (21.3 points per game), Wake Forest was shut out twice in 2012. Clemson hasn’t shut out an ACC opponent in 15 years. It’s a rare feat, but one which could further prove the Tigers’ turnaround.
“We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to continue to get better at. But everybody does,” Venables said. “You watch college football, you watch the NFL, man, everybody’s got problems. We’re not unique to that.”