CLEMSON — Following its best defensive showing of the season, an embattled Clemson defense was dealt a setback Sunday when it learned it will be without a starter for the remainder of the regular season.
Further tests Sunday revealed cornerback Darius Robinson suffered a fractured ankle in Clemson’s 38-17 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday. Initial X-rays Saturday did not reveal a fracture. Robinson will have surgery Tuesday and will be out at least until bowl practice, according to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
Clemson is “incredibly thin” at cornerback, Swinney said. Xavier Brewer will now spend more time at cornerback, and Swinney said the defensive staff will also “challenge” 6-3, 200-pound redshirt freshman Cortez Davis to perform. Robinson regained his starting position Saturday after briefly losing the job to Garry Peters.
There is little time for Clemson (6-1, 3-1 ACC) to build cornerback depth in practice as the No. 14 Tigers play at Wake Forest (4-3, 2-3) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPN). It is Clemson’s quickest turnaround between games since 2009 when it last played on a Thursday night, losing at Georgia Tech in the second game of the season.
Wake Forest also played Saturday, defeating Virginia, 16-10.
“The celebration is over,” Swinney said. “It’s a quick, quick turnaround for coaches and players. We have a lot of work to do.”
Sunday is normally an off day from practice for Clemson players, but the Tigers returned to practice Sunday evening. The Tigers will practice today and Tuesday, then take Wednesday off.
For the first time this season, it is the Clemson offense that enters practice having more issues to correct than the defense.
The Tigers had five three-and-outs, an unusually high number under coordinator Chad Morris, and produced season lows in yards (295) and plays (66) Saturday.
Clemson entered the Virginia Tech game allowing just 1.67 sacks per game but allowed two on the first series and five in the game.
“Worst game we’ve played all year,” Swinney said of the front. “Fundamentally and technically flat. … (Tajh Boyd) had his worst game, but when your offensive line has its worst game of the year, it goes hand in hand.”
Morris said he was “embarrassed” by the effort.
Morris can take some comfort in that Wake Forest’s defense ranks 75th in total yards (405 allowed per game) and doesn’t feature a player who ranks in the top 100 in tackles, tackles for loss or sacks.
While Wake’s production isn’t impressive, Swinney says Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe challenges teams with formations that create numbers advantages.
The Clemson defense will look to build upon its best showing of the season against another offensively challenged team. Wake ranks 10th in the ACC in passing and 11th in rushing. The Deacons rank 111th in the nation on total offense, averaging 316 yards per game.
“We’re not Alabama,” Swinney said. “But we have a chance to be much improved on defense and we have a lot of guys coming back.”