Clemson searching for more, especially from run defense

Though Clemson won Saturday, the defense had trouble slowing down Wake Forest's Brandon Pendergrass.

RICHARD SHIRO

CLEMSON -- The last time Clemson was 9-1, Dabo Swinney was a sophomore at Alabama. Still, the Clemson football coach said his team, ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings, has not reached its peak.

"We're happy we're 9-1 and have clinched our division," Swinney said. "But we have a lot of work to do, and that is a good thing because we are 9-1 and haven't reached our potential."

Swinney listed a number of areas for improvement, citing a sudden lack of ball security as a major concern along with improving offensive line play also being a priority. But perhaps the area most in need of improvement if Clemson is to end its 20-year Atlantic Coast Conference title drought is run defense.

The Tigers rank 90th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (188.3 ypg) and 91st in yards per rush attempt (4.71). Clemson (6-1 ACC), will attempt to improve its rush defense at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at N.C. State (WCIV-TV/ABC). The Wolfpack (5-5, 2-4) has struggled to the run the ball this season.

"Defensively, we've got a good plan, we just have to execute that plan," said Swinney , whose run defense was 17th in the country last season (3.46 yards per attempt). "We have got to get off blocks, defensive tackles have to play the technique we call on run calls … our linebackers have to fit gaps properly. There are a lot of things we can improve upon."

Improving the run defense is especially critical considering most analysts expect No. 9 Virginia Tech to win the Coastal Division and meet Clemson in the ACC title game Dec. 3 in Charlotte (8 p.m., ESPN).

In the coaches poll, Virginia Tech is ranked seventh, one place above Clemson despite Clemson winning, 23-3, at Tech earlier this year. Virginia Tech has been playing better in recent weeks and is 24th in the nation in rushing yards per game (206.9). The Hokies possess perhaps the ACC's most explosive running back in David Wilson, and a dual-threat quarterback in Logan Thomas, who has been playing more effectively over the last month.

Clemson has allowed three 100-yard rushers over the last four weeks.

Wake's Brandon Pendergrass rushed for 134 yards Saturday, including two 20-plus yard touchdown runs.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said the first of the long touchdown runs was due to a bad call he made, the other he attributed to a "rookie mistake."

Notes

Swinney is hopeful Sammy Watkins (AC joint) will be available for the N.C. State game. Watkins left Saturday's win against Wake in the third quarter and did not return. "(Watkins) looked pretty good today ... a little sore," Swinney said. "I hope to get him going Tuesday or Wednesday." ... Swinney said left tackle Phillip Price has a sprained MCL (right knee) and will be out versus N.C. State and will also likely miss the South Carolina game. Swinney said Price will be back for the ACC title game.