No D, No Problem
Worst scoring defenses belonging to an ACC (dating to league's inception in 1953)
2011 Clemson 29.3
1989 Duke 27.9*
2009 Georgia Tech 24.8
1998 Georgia Tech 24.6*
1984 Maryland 23.3
2001 Maryland 22.2
2013 Clemson 22.2
CLEMSON - Victory is the ultimate end game, and Clemson collected 22 of those the last two years and 32 the last three, so this method has worked out OK.
Still, know this about its defensive players and coaches: they truly don't care if the final score is 3-0 or 53-50, so long as the Tigers have the higher number on the scoreboard when the night is over.
"A win is a win," defensive end Vic Beasley said, as flatly as possible. "Obviously, we don't want the opponent to score."
Georgia scored 35 points last year. So did Ohio State. Neither was good enough to top Clemson, which put up 38 and 40 those nights in program-defining triumphs. The Tigers have overcome allowances of 30-plus an unbelievable nine times the past three years to say, as Beasley did, a win's a win.
The easy narrative this preseason, as Clemson approaches the 2014 season, is the defense will lead the squad as it returns veterans like Beasley, Stephone Anthony, Grady Jarrett and Robert Smith - and the offense looks to reload after losing multiple All-Americans to the NFL.
But, just try and entice those defensive guys by suggesting they could beat teams like Georgia or Louisville or South Carolina by scores of 17-13, not 38-35 or 40-35.
Enjoy the blank expressions and reasonably bland - indifferent, at best - replies.
"Our No. 1 goal, on our board, is win," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "It doesn't matter how you do it."
"I like them Ws, man. If I win by 1, or I win by 20, I still beat you. I can live with that," defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Marion Hobby said. "I don't get caught up in stats. Win or lose. Did you get it done? Win or lose."
"I believe we have a good offense, too," Jarrett said. "We want to dominate our opponents if we can, but we'll put the game on our back - and they'll go get the game if they have to."
When coach Dabo Swinney was asked about surviving a slugfest, he smartly retorted, "Have you asked (offensive coordinator) Chad Morris about that?"
Then he offered, "Well, that would be nice. I would have no problem with a couple of them 17-14 games. But then everybody would be complaining because the offense stinks, we can't score no points. So you can't ever win, when you're in this seat."
A few notes of caution, in case Clemson wants to stick to its first-to-30-wins shootout ways.
In the program's last 43 games, the Tigers have dropped eight: allowing no fewer than 27 in all eight losses, 30-plus in six losses, 49 in three and 70 in one. During that span, they're 18-0 when holding opponents below 21 points.
Still not convinced? Just wait, there's more.
Clemson's defense is projected to continue improving upon its burgeoning 2013 unit, which turned in a respectable 22.2 points per game mark. It had better, because in the 61-year history of the ACC, only six conference champions or co-champions permitted a worse scoring average.
As it were, Clemson's 2011 scoring defense (29.3 points) is the highest ever belonging to an ACC champ. Go ahead and remove the Orange Bowl debacle; 26.2 points allowed still would have been the second-highest.
Of course, times have changed, offenses are faster, points are more plentiful. Harboring a high-powered offense does work against Clemson's defensive stats, simply because it's on the field more often.
"What people are doing on offense today, it's hard. People are gonna score points," defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks said. "Our bowl game was 40-35, and we felt like we played pretty decent at times. ... You don't see very many 7-0 or 14-10 games."
Do consider the past three BCS championship matchups, organized by final scoring defense rank: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 LSU, No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 47 Auburn. Leaving out Auburn, the other five squads were stingy, allowing south of 13 points per game.
"If we're not playing good defense, then we're all (mad), just like we were in the Orange Bowl a couple years ago," Venables said. "It was frustrating, right? Our offense was blowing the doors off everybody. But there was frustration with how we played defense in that game. The expectation was to stone 'em. That's what defense is supposed to do."
Clemson should, indeed, score its share of points. But lately it hasn't been enough to overcome Florida State, which owns 100 points the last two games against the Tigers as well as, incidentally, the last two ACC crowns.
"Our offense keeps a high tempo, they put a lot of pressure on us," Beasley admitted. "But that's why I feel like we have a chip on our shoulder.
"We just have so much experience, and I feel like there's no reason why we shouldn't be the top defense in the country."
If Clemson is just that, or close, championship dreams are that much clearer.
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