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Opponent Breakdown: Clemson Tigers Defense

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson is known for having a potent offense but the defense has done a great job of producing solid NFL talent over the years. Brent Venables is a very highly respected defensive coordinator and he has done a very good job since joining the Tiger's staff. Venables has a really good reputation as a recruiter and as a defensive play caller. His system isn't very exotic but it gets very good results.

The name Vic Beasley will be uttered more than anyone could possibly imagine this weekend. He is the star of this Clemson defense and he is widely regarded as one of the best pass rushers in the country. Beasley is third in the nation in sacks per game and he is closing in on Clemson's all time sack record. He has an amazing first step and his speed allows him to get up the field and around blockers to get into the pocket from behind. The rest of the front seven does such a great job of flying to the ball that Beasley is pretty much let loose to get after the quarterback every play. Grady Jarrett is another top player in the ACC at the defensive tackle spot. He has looked vastly improved from a quickness standpoint to go with his great ability to get push as well as hold the point of attack. Louisville's offensive line hasn't played well against speed guys like Beasley, but Tobijah Hugley has struggled with quickness in one-on-one situations as well.

One would have to wonder if Bobby Petrino's gameplan includes a plan to provide help against Beasley. Whether you keep a running back in to create a double team or you line up a tight end to his side to chip him when he releases, something needs to be done to slow him down. His wide splits and tendency to get really high up the field opens up big rush lanes for blitzers from the second level. It's somewhat of a pick your poison situation, but Beasley is the key. If you can't stop him the offense is seriously limited. Forcing blitzers to create pressure means that you should see some single coverage opportunities on the outside. With DeVante Parker potentially coming back to the lineup, those matchups become a big factor in the game.

Clemson runs a 4-3 base set with a good amount of nickel when they need it. The defense relies on the linebackers to be able to run and make plays in the open field. Stephone Anthony is one of the better middle linebackers in the country and he his having another great year with 33 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Anthony benefits from an aggressive system as well as having two really good defensive tackles in front of him. Linebackers always play better when they don't have to worry about linemen getting to them at the second level. Jarrett and DeShawn Williams do a great job of taking up blocks and riding along with the flow of the play to allow Anthony and Tony Steward to run and make plays. Clemson's aggression and speed on defense has hurt them at times. UNC did a great job of countering their pressure with jailbreak screens. They ended up getting two touchdowns on the same play and seemingly exposing a flaw in the defense. Then NC State tried the same play and got stuffed each time. State's linemen didn't get out quick enough to get hands on the linebackers and they were able to make plays on the receivers. They are extremely quick guys and Louisville's linemen have to get to their blocks in order to give the offense a chance to move the ball.

The Tiger's defense moves around a lot pre-snap and that really is a factor with their defensive backfield. There are plays where safety Jayron Kearse will line up like a linebacker and run blitz and there are times where Robert Smith will do the same. Sometimes their corners will line up in press coverage only to sink off to 8-10 yards and play quarters. The defense looks to make the decision for the quarterback harder to make. Making that decision harder makes the decision take longer which allows more time for the pass rush to get there. Kearse and Smith have done a really good job against the run so far. They are first and second in solo tackles on the team, respectively. Where Louisville can possibly find some success is getting these guys matched up against Eli Rogers or Michalee Harris in the slot. Both are bigger safeties that don't really do great in short spaces in coverage. However, they can both hold their own down the field in coverage.

Mackenzie Alexander will be the third former 5-star defensive back Louisville will face this year. He hasn't had the impact that most expected from him so far this season. He was beaten for a touchdown in the UNC game and he has made some mistakes in coverage in other games. He was known as a playmaking cover corner coming out of high school and I think fans are still waiting for him to get his hands on the football. He is joined at corner by senior Garry Peters. Just like Alexander, Peters hasn't been able to make a lot of plays in coverage. What he has done, however, is get into the backfield and make plays against the run and on screen plays. His 3.5 tackles for loss put him fourth on the team. Korrin Wiggins is the nickelback for this defense and he has been pretty inconsistent in coverage. He's not too fluid when he has to turn and run and it leads to him grabbing a bit. He was beat pretty badly by Bo Hines last week and took a bad defensive holding call on a pass that was probably overthrown. Reggie Bonnafon has relied heavily on his inside receivers so far, so it will be interesting to see how Wiggins holds up.

This defense is overlooked because of the history of high powered offenses for the Tigers. When you really break down their season so far they've really only had one bad quarter and that wasn't against Todd Gurley and the fresh group of running backs behind him. They are susceptible to the big play as FSU and UNC both showed in their matchups. But, NC State put up a great fight against a really good Florida State defense two weeks ago and got absolutely shut down by this Clemson front seven last week. Louisville will have to take the game down the field where Clemson isn't as experienced. Vic Beasley and company will have their way if not.

KEY PLAYERS: DE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett, MLB Stephone Anthony, OLB Tony Steward, FS Jayron Kearse


  • Clemson has three former 5-star recruits that start on defense.
  • Vic Beasley feels that he is better than Clowney. He said that out loud to another human.
  • Jayron Kearse is the nephew of Jevon Kearse.
  • Vic Beasley was considered to be a tight end prospect by some coming out of high school.
  • Brent Venables looks like a psycho model in his bio picture.