Clemson has been known for having a top-level defense for a very long time now but the loss of Brent Venables has tested the sustainability of that fact. Venables left for Oklahoma and he took with him a system that reloaded each year no matter who was lost to the NFL draft. This season has been interesting as Wes Goodwin was promoted to the defensive coordinator position with no prior coaching experience. The Tigers have had a few surprising performances on defense recently and Goodwin’s experience will be tested.
The defensive line for Clemson was heralded as one of the best potential groups in recent memory. Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis returned this year to provide a one-two punch in the middle to stop the run and get after the quarterback. Davis has battled injuries throughout his career and the senior is having a strong season with seven tackles for loss and he has been very disruptive. Bresee has missed time this season after his sister passed away. Ruke Orhorhoro is a guy to keep an eye on here. He has flashes of being the best of the group, in my opinion. He missed the Notre Dame game but I always assume that injured players will be back to play UofL.
Myles Murphy is a player that is expected to be drafted in the first round but I’ve been really impressed by K.J. Henry who lines up on the opposite side. Henry is a veteran leader who took some time to become an impact player but he does a little bit of everything for this defensive front. I think he’s done a good job of setting the edge and helping the run defense. He also has a bunch of quarterback hurries and batted passes. Murphy (and Xavier Thomas when he’s healthy) get a lot of the focus but don’t miss Henry’s impact on the game.
All summer long we heard about Clemson’s linebacker group being better because they were more athletic. While I do agree that they are more talented as a group, they don’t have that physical edge they’ve had since UofL joined the ACC. As good as this defense has been over the years, they didn’t put a lot of guys in the NFL. This position group has been built on guys who lead more than anything and they may be missing that this season with such a young group.
Trenton Simpson has seen his production drop off this season but he is still the most gifted player on their team, in my opinion. Simpson may not be a mutant like former star, Isiah Simmons, but he is at least an alien. He has great size and he can fly around the field like a safety or corner. He joins Jeremiah Trotter as the two linebackers we will see in the middle of the field. They cover a lot of ground but Notre Dame found a lot of space to work with in the run game last weekend. Barrett Carter rounds out the group as the outside linebacker who will have to contain UofL on the edges.
The defense has been inconsistent overall but each group has seemingly taken turns being the weak spot. Wake Forest made the secondary look beyond pedestrian a few weeks ago but they have looked very good in other games like NC State. From a talent standpoint, this group is one of the better secondaries UofL will see this year. However, they are a bit young and inexperienced.
At cornerback, Nate Wiggins leads the group in PBUs. He had a nightmare game against Wake Froest but his one PBU in the game was the one that ended it. He and Fred Davis will be the main players at the corner spot but Toriano Pride is a true freshman who could see some time in a reserve role.
Andrew Mukuba is the best player of the group and he will split time between free safety and slot corner. He was one of the best freshmen in the country last season and he has only improved in year two. Jalyn Phillips is one of the top tacklers on the team but he and Tyler Venables have some rough numbers in coverage. Could this be the game where UofL is able to use their play action to hit a big throw or two against a safety in coverage?