Clemson’s run defense remains area of concern

Sammy Watkins will be back in the lineup Saturday against Furman.

CLEMSON — Ball State rushed for 6.3 yards per carry against Clemson on Saturday, more yards allowed by the Tigers than in any game last season under former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

Clemson allowed fewer yards per carry in its losses to West Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia Tech last season than it did against the Mid-American Conference opponent Saturday. And the production was not a product of Ball State piling up yards late against reserves as the majority of Clemson’s first-team defense played well into the second half of the Tigers’ 52-27 win.

Clemson ranks 101st in the nation in rush yards allowed (216 yards per game) and 115th — out of 124 teams — in yards per attempt (5.6).

No. 11 Clemson (2-0) has done many good things early this season. The offense is ahead of where it was a year ago, operating faster and more efficiently even with Sammy Watkins on the sidelines until 3 p.m. Saturday against Furman. But what the Tigers have not done well is defend the run, something that has become a recurring theme.

Clemson’s defense did make progress in several areas Saturday: allowing just 128 passing yards, holding Ball State to 3 of 14 on third-down conversations and forcing two turnovers. But defensive coordinator Brent Venables said the run defense woes overshadow any positives from the game.

“I just thought (Ball State) ran with way too much consistently for my liking,” Venables said. “It’s about toughness, it’s about being physical. … It wasn’t a trick play, they were running zone. We have to get them better.”

Yes, this is a relatively inexperienced defense. Yes, there is no dominant lineman like Brandon Thompson a year ago.

Yes, there is time to improve. But after a spring and summer of installing what was thought to be a simpler and more zone-heavy defense, results against the run have been similar to last year.

The only common thread between the last two years is the players and Venables expressed confidence in only “11 to 15” players late in August.

Venables notes the issues have involved multiple players. For instance, on Ball State running back Horactio Banks’ 54-yard touchdown run, Banks found a clear running lane but Clemson safety Xavier Brewer also took a poor angle allowing the TD.

“We were very poor from a rush defense standpoint,” Swinney said. “We are still a little bit of work in progress. We have to be gap sound, we have to tackle, and we have to take the right pursuit lanes.”

Swinney said left guard David Beasley suffered a sprained knee ligament (MCL) and his status is in question for the Furman game. Linebacker Tig Willard sprained a shoulder and is also questionable for the Furman game. … Swinney and Venables were seen engaged in a lively conversation on the sideline near the end of the first half Saturday. Swinney said Venables didn’t want him to attempt the 61-yard field goal that Spencer Benton converted. “Sometimes I do something right,” Swinney said.