If it wasn’t obvious against Louisiana Tech, it became painfully obvious last Saturday that the Clemson football secondary was missing multiple players as Sam Hartman carved up the Tigers defense with 6 touchdown passes and just about as many pass interference calls.
The young players were not ready for such a prominent role and it showed, there’s no getting around that.
Some of those missing were expected and known to be out, while others (Malcom Greene) were more unexpected. The hits keep coming. Literally.
In Tuesday’s press availability Dabo Swinney gave no guarantees that any of those would return this week against another very good quarterback, Devin Leary of North Carolina State.
"Swinney didn’t offer much in terms of injury updates this early in the week. He said he hopes that everybody who missed the Wake Forest game, including cornerback Sheridan Jones and safety Andrew Mukuba, will be back for Saturday’s game, but they’ll see how those players do throughout the week."
This has to be a concern facing Leary, who’s completed 64% of his passes for 890 yards and 9 touchdowns with 2 interceptions in four games.
Leary’s not quite Sam Hartman and his receivers aren’t of the same caliber, but they offer plenty of challenges for a young Clemson secondary that could find the ball, be in the right spot or play basic coverages last weekend.
As we hear the talking heads across the nation wonder what’s wrong with the Clemson defense, it’s pretty clear to me that an old saying applies: The biggest ability is availability and right now Clemson is struggling on the defensive side of the ball, especially on the back end, but there are plenty of others as well.
This is not the Clemson football defense we expected to see this season and injuries are the main reason
A deep and talented line has been hampered by the absence of Tyler Davis, who returned for the Wake game and was a force.
Tre Williams has been out and Xavier Thomas is still working on returning from a broken foot, with a return to be determined.
The injuries on the back end have been well documented and it’s no sure thing they’ll be back this weekend for the biggest game of the season.
Simply put, this is not the Clemson defense we expected to see this season and injuries are the main reason.
You play with what you have, though and no one wants to hear about injuries post-game.
On the flip side, if the Tigers can make it through this, the young guys in the defensive backfield will have much more experience than they ever imagined moving forward.
Survive and advance.