You’ve all heard the stories about how great Clemson’s defense is and I’m here to tell you that they’re all correct. While the defensive front gets the attention, the entire group really does a great job of playing with extreme effort and toughness. You would expect for a team that is this good to take plays off or to rest on their laurels a bit. Instead, they take pride in dominating the opposition as they are an extension of their defensive coordinator.
The front four for Clemson are the best in the country. Christian Wilkins typically gets the most notice as he has the biggest personality but Dexter Lawrence is probably the best of the group. Both 300+ pounders are impossible to move in the run game and they can also get after the quarterback pretty well. Louisville’s interior linemen have been abysmal at times this year but they have seen some success running the football between the tackles over the last few weeks.
On the edges Clemson has Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant to get after the quarterback. Ferrell is the more well-rounded of the two but Bryant is one of the best pure pass rushers in the country. Mekhi Becton will have an opportunity to show how good he is when he goes against these two. Both are speed rushers that will test how athletic Becton is. The guy that will really be a big factor in this game is true freshman Xavier Thomas. He runs like a cornerback even though he’s 260 pounds. He’s the future of this defense and he probably has the highest ceiling of anyone on this line.
Because of the focus the defensive line gets, the linebackers for the Tigers tend to get overlooked. Kendall Joseph and Tre Lamar are studs on the inside of this defense. Lamar is the big guy in the middle that just eats up tackles as Lawrence and Wilkins take up blocks. Joseph is the guy that does a bit of everything. He’s a prototype weakside linebacker because he can run so well and he is really good at tackling in space.
Isaiah Simmons has been the replacement for Dorian O’Daniel at Clemson’s hybrid outside linebacker/nickelback spot and he has played the role very well. As a natural safety, he does really well in coverage as well as playing in space. His size and speed have really helped him be a force in the run game as well. I think he will play a huge role in this game because Louisville really loves to run crossing routes and Simmons will be the guy that will play in the short zones to take those away.
The one spot on this defense that has had some issues at time is the secondary. It’s been an interesting thing to me because it’s also the area that they have some of their lower rated recruits playing more. I doubt that’s the real issue but it’s just an interesting aspect to me. Texas A&M was able to throw for over 400 yards and Syracuse and NC State completed over 60% of their passes. Those game also happen to be the few games this year where the pass rush was ineffective. I don’t think that will be the case this weekend.
Trayvon Mullen and A.J. Terrell will start at corner for the Tigers and both have had strong seasons so far. Mullen is the type of corner that you just avoid at all costs. He has great size and he can run down anything you try to run against him down the field. Terrell is also a big corner at 6-2 and I like what I’ve seen from him as the year has gone on. He is the only corner with an interception on the year and he also has a forced fumble on the year.
The safety tandem that UofL will see is Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace. Muse was ejected from the game last year on an early targeting call while Wallace was mostly used as a backup at the time. Muse is a massive safety at 225 pounds and he’s what I call a “run and hit” player. He doesn’t typically make highlight plays and he is pretty terrible in coverage, but he’s going to run down plays and he’s going to hit whoever has the ball once he gets there. Wallace is a more well-rounded guy that can play well in coverage but also does a good job playing downhill and tracking down edge plays. These guys will make it much harder for Louisville to throw the seam routes that they’ve looked for a lot this year.