Clemson Football: 2022 defense vs. 2021 defense

Clemson co-defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin communicates during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina Saturday, October 1, 2022.Ncaa Football Clemson Football Vs Nc State Wolfpack
Clemson co-defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin communicates during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina Saturday, October 1, 2022.Ncaa Football Clemson Football Vs Nc State Wolfpack /

Clemson Football entered the 2022 season with new faces on the coaching staff, and some old faces in new roles. While there were many reasons to think the new hires could work out well, there were also reasons to believe there would be growing pains.

Last month, the Nachos & Analysis Twitter account asked this question: who has done the best job with their unit this season for the Tigers?

It was interesting to see the variety of answers to Nachos & Analysis’s question. There were multiple votes for Wes Goodwin. A few for CJ Spiller, Thomas Austin, Kyle Richardson, and Mike Reed. One vote for Nick Eason. I saw no votes for Brandon Streeter, Mickey Conn, Tyler Grisham, or Lemanski Hall.

This started me thinking about how one determines who did the best job. I think many fans defer to which units they perceive to be playing well or overachieving, versus units they perceive is playing poorly or underachieving.

I think timing can be key too. Nachos & Analysis asked this question in mid-November after the Louisville game. Had the question been asked after the South Carolina game or after the ACC Championship against North Carolina, I think we might have a seen a different variety of responses.

I also think in-game performance can strongly influence the opinions of fans, especially when it comes to the coordinators who are responsible for play calling. I think if we polled the fans on which coordinator they think did a better job with play calling, I think Goodwin would win in a landslide over Streeter.

This sent me down a rabbit hole. One question that I began asking myself was how improvement year over year should influence the answer of who did the best job in a given season. In-game performance is important, but shouldn’t offseason performance – spring ball, summer prep & fall camp – be a strong factor as well? 2022 didn’t start when the ball kicked off on Labor Day.

I decided to take a look at 2021 performance versus 2022 performance, starting with the defense. I used statistics from These stats are for games against FBS competition only. The 2021 game against South Carolina State and the 2022 game against Furman are not included.

Opponent points per game

  • 2021: 15.8, FBS Rank: 2nd
  • 2022: 20.8, FBS Rank: 16th

Opponent yards per game

  • 2021: 313.2, FBS Rank: 7th
  • 2022: 328.8, FBS Rank: 21st

Opponent yards per play

  • 2021: 4.3, FBS Rank: 3rd
  • 2022: 4.8, FBS Rank: 21st

Opponent third down conversion percentage

  • 2021: 36.13%, FBS Rank: 31st
  • 2022: 33.94%, FBS Rank: 25st

Takeaways per game

  • 2021: 1.3, FBS Rank: 61st
  • 2022: 1.6, FBS Rank: 39th

I think sometimes we forget just how good the Clemson defense was in 2021. Only Georgia allowed fewer points. If you think back to how badly the offense struggled, you realize how good that defense had to be for the Tigers to finish with 10 wins.

Clemson did improve in two of these categories: the opponent’s 3rd down conversion rate and takeaways per game. Both of those improvements are noteworthy and need to be considered in comparing 2021 to 2022.

In the other categories like scoring defense and yards allowed, we see Clemson took a step back. This is not shocking considering the turnover on the defensive staff and the starters that had to be replaced in the back seven.

It was a big ask to expect the 2022 Clemson Football defense to improve upon the performance in 2021

Some thought the 2022 defense would be even better than 2021, particularly due to the depth of talent returning on the defensive line. In the big picture that didn’t happen, and it probably wasn’t a realistic expectation in hindsight.

Overall, the defense was very good, but I think it is fair to say it took a step back in 2022 compared to 2021. It’s also fair to say it was a big ask to maintain or improve upon the 2021 performance considering all the changes on and off the field.

As this relates to the original question regarding the performance of the staff, I think Wes Goodwin performed well in Year 1 despite not seeing the statistical improvement in most of the categories reviewed. Year over year improvement is merely one way to look at his performance. We need to take into consideration the changes to other defensive staff positions, the loss of key linebackers and defensive backs from the previous season and the huge expectations for this defense.

As I said, this took me down a rabbit hole, and there is a lot more to consider about how each unit performed against the benchmark set in 2021. Too much for one article. I will have more thoughts on this as we move into the offseason and the start of 2023.

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