The numbers don’t lie. Will this year’s Clemson football defense stack up to defenses of the past?
How good can they be? That’s the question in my mind this summer. Just how good can the 2016 Tiger defense be? Everyone knows the old adage, offense wins games, defense wins championships.
And I couldn’t agree more. You won’t find a championship team, at any level, that doesn’t have a dominate defense.
How many times in the past did Clemson football have a good set of skill players on offense, only to watch the opponent zip up the field and score? It was demoralizing, it was a momentum killer and overall just frustrating.
Today I’m going to compare a couple of defenses from the last few years, and point out some specific stats that I think this years defense will have to achieve to be considered successful. I’ll show you some common themes when it comes to defense, and predict where I think this season’s defensive unit will fall into place.
The 2014 Clemson defense was the best of the best that season. It was the No. 1 rated defense in the country, and rightfully so. They front seven were beasts that stopped the run, rushed the quarterback and generally caused havoc in the offensive backfield.
The biggest number that stands out to me about the 2014 defense? Tackles for loss. This team averaged 10.1 tackles for loss, per game, for the entire season. That is just short of amazing. Basically every 4th play, the opponents offense was going backwards.
Since defensive coordinator Brent Venables joined the Clemson football program in 2012, the Tigers have averaged 8.7 tackles for loss, per game, for the whole season. That’s the highest tackles for loss average, over any four-year span, for a Tigers defense, since they began tracking TFL’s. It helps that names
like Vic Beasley, Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Grady Jarrett and Stephone Anthony were wearing Orange. Another telling stat in the Venables tenure is; only once since 2000 were there two players on a
Clemson defense with double-digit TFL’s. Ricky Sapp and Da’Quan Bowers had 13 and 10.5 TFL’s respectively. Under Venables, there has yet to be a season where there hasn’t been a tandem of double-digit TFL guys on defense.
Tackles for Loss.. a huge stat in the overall scope of a defense.
The other number I like to look at is rushing defense. If you can’t run the ball, you’re going to have a hard time winning a game.
Clemson has done a very good job of stuffing the run under Coach Venables. In 2012 and 2013 Clemson finished with identical 11-2 records. Both seasons they gave up a shade over 150 yards a game on the ground.
Offensive inconsistency led to some skewed numbers in 2014, but that defense only gave up 103.4 yards a game. That’s scary good. Last year’s national runner-up defense gave up 125.3 yards a game. Still, very impressive.
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The last stat that I look at is 3rd down percentage. Meaning, how often does the defense allow a team to convert on 3rd down opportunities.
The lower the percentage, the better you are. The top 50 teams in college football are usually under 40% in allowing 3rd down conversions. Clemson last season finished 4th nationally with a 27.7% 3rd down percentage rate. Boston College actually led the nation with 24.1%, while National Champion Alabama finished 8th by allowing 28%.
As you can see, there’s not a lot of separation in this category, and it’s not the end all, be all stat for your team but it is very important. If your defense is stopping teams regularly on 3rd down, they are getting off of the field, giving the ball back to the offense, and allowing for higher scoring opportunities for your team.
The four years before Venables, the Clemson defense had season 3rd down percentages of 37, 39, 38 and 41%. Since Coach Venables arrived the Tigers have produced percentages of 33, 30, 27 and 27%. The numbers don’t lie. Coach Venables has the horses, and the formula to get off the field.
So, in conclusion, I feel like this years defense is very capable of being as productive as the other Venables led defenses. If this defense can average 8-9.5 tackles for loss, hold opponents to under 135 rushing yards per game, and come away with a 3rd down percentage of 30% or under this season, then we are in for a treat.
Clemson has a very deep, big, athletic defensive line to complement a host of fast and physical linebackers. The perfect equation to lead the Tigers back to the College Football Playoffs.