Clemson notes: Struggling run defense preps for nation’s top rusher; Swinney sidesteps Clowney questions
CLEMSON — This might not be the best time for the nation’s No. 1 running back to come to town.
True, in Clemson’s previous two home games, the opponent has averaged just 1.9 yards per rush. But those foes were South Carolina State and Wake Forest.
Neither of those squads boasted Andre Williams, the only Division I player averaging 150 yards per game rushing. Clemson will see plenty of him Saturday when Boston College (3-2, 1-1 ACC) visits Death Valley for a 3:30 game.
“Their running back is the heart and soul of what they do,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said during his Tuesday press conference. “Very, very good player. As tough a guy as we’re going to play. We’re going to have to do a great job of tackling.”
No. 3 Clemson (5-0, 3-0) has been far more sure-handed on defense than last year, but Syracuse rolled up 323 rushing yards in the Tigers’ 49-14 victory at the Carrier Dome.
“You hate that it happens, and you understand what takes place,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “There are mental issues — and it’s a coaching cliché, but it’s always correctable. Some of that is my fault, and some of it is we’ve got to be more consistent mentally.”
Williams is coming off a career effort in Boston College’s 48-27 win over Army: 30 carries, 263 yards and five touchdowns.
“Yeah, it’s a big challenge,” Venables said. “Everything starts in the run game, and when people are able to establish it with consistency, you have issues on defense.”
Syracuse’s Jerome Smith gained 125 yards against the Tigers, who overall were gashed for 6.7 yards per carry. Smith had a 66-yard pickup, and Devante McFarlane went for 56 and 38 yards on two other carries.
“A few of the different runs, whether it’s somebody different or it was a different call, we just didn’t execute very well,” Venables said. “That (Syracuse) line was good enough to exploit you when you make some mistakes.”
In last year’s BC-Clemson meeting in Chestnut Hill, Williams was clamped down for 61 yards on 22 carries, but Venables puts “very little” emphasis on the archives. That’s especially because Golden Eagles quarterback Chase Rettig threw for 341 yards in Clemson’s 45-31 win.
“Every game every year is different. Different staffs, different schemes,” Venables said. “He’s playing with a great deal of confidence, and they’re playing with great continuity up front.”
Now they know
Swinney recalled a preseason radio appearance along with College Football Hall of Famer Eddie George, who had traveled to Clemson leading up to the opener against Georgia.
Now they know
Swinney asked George if he could name a single Tigers’ defensive lineman.
“He couldn’t name one of them. Not one guy. Not one guy on our entire (defensive line,)” Swinney said. “And I used that with our team.”
Now the Tigers boast the nation’s sack leader (Vic Beasley, with eight) and a run-stuffer in Grady Jarrett, who made eight solo tackles Saturday at Syracuse.
“It did serve as motivation and make us want to work even harder, because we felt we were worthy of that,” Jarrett said. “I think we’re doing a great job across the whole defensive line, getting better and getting more recognition. Everybody doesn’t still know our names, so we’ve got more work to do.”
Spreading the wealth
Eleven different players have already caught a touchdown for Clemson: receivers Sammy Watkins, Charone Peake, Adam Humphries, Martavis Bryant, Germone Hopper and Mike Williams; tight ends Stanton Seckinger, Jordan Leggett and Sam Cooper; and running backs Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard.
Spreading the wealth
“That’s amazing. I’m happiest when there’s more guys touching the ball,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “That means we’re doing the right things here. From a quarterback standpoint, from a coordinator standpoint, it’s making sure there’s not one guy they can key.”
Eleven different touchdown receivers, through five games, already marks the most in school single-season history.
“It’s crazy. Year in and year out we have a lot of depth at receiver,” Humphries said. “It’s good to have our young guys like Mike Williams step up and Germone Hopper’s playing really well, and T.J. Green’s also going to be a big factor. The competition every day at practice helps out with that.”
Linebacker Spencer Shuey is dealing with turf toe, but hasn’t missed much time on Saturdays due to the pain.
“It’ll get better through the year, so he wasn’t as sore this Sunday as he was last Sunday,” Swinney said. “Yeah, he’s been a little limited the last couple Mondays and Tuesdays, working back in on Wednesday and ready to go by gametime.”
Defensive tackle Carlos Watkins hasn’t returned to action since being in a car accident Sept. 19 in western North Carolina.
“Structurally, he’s fine,” Swinney said. “He’s got massive bruises on both legs. They’re trying to drain all that blood out of there so it improves his mobility. He’s a lot better, but he’s still not ready to stick his hand in the ground and go play football yet.”
Safety Travis Blanks is hopeful to plant and cut in practice this week to test his knee injury. Linebacker Ben Boulware, also with a sore knee, is questionable for Saturday. Cornerback Martin Jenkins had thumb surgery, and is expected to play with a cast on his hand.
Swinney was asked if he’d ever had a player tell him shortly before kickoff he was not healthy of enough to play.
“Ah, no,” Swinney said. “I haven’t.”
Another reporter pressed Swinney how he’d feel if it did happen.
After some nervous laughter in the room, Swinney said, “I’m gonna take the next question.” Then he said, “I hope that never happens. I’m usually pretty in tune to the injury report and on the same page with the trainers.”
At no point was Jadeveon Clowney’s name mentioned in the line of questioning or response.