CLEMSON -- While Clemson’s defense was routinely among the best in the nation in numerous categories in 2019, the postseason exposed some chinks in the Tigers’ armor down the stretch.
Ohio State rattled off more than 500 total yards of offense in the semifinal round of the College Football Playoff, and LSU, under the leadership of Heisman Trophy quarterback Joe Burrow, put up a prolific 628 yards in the national title game.
On the whole, Clemson held opponents to 290.9 yards per game on the season, but in the last three games, the Tigers gave up 511 yards per game. In the championship game, Burrow recorded five touchdown passes and was seemingly playing pitch-and-catch with his wide receivers down the field.
Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables said his unit, which did come up with five sacks on Burrow as part of some successful blitz packages, has some work to do to continue to improve looking toward next season.
“Every year, you don't take anything for granted,” Venables said. “You really do have to start over. We have some really good, strong pieces that you feel really good about, and there's a lot of unknown, as we all know. We got a lot to prove. We got a long way to go to continue to build our defense.”
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He said his defense was “solid, not spectacular” in 2019.
“I think there was a lot of buy-in in regards to the investment and the toughness that it takes,” he said. “But I really believe that toughness and the ability to play at a strong, consistent level, I think, again, you earn that over time.”
Venables said he thought his team had a lot on which to build and grow from experiences gained from the regular season and playoff.
“I think we've got good leadership, (and) particularly, our strength is in our back seven,” Venables said. “There's a bunch of great leaders back there, guys that have played winning football. They understand the standard. They help create the standard. They help sustain the standard.”
The Tigers have the most to prove up front on the defensive line, he said.
“But I like the group of guys that we've got,” Venables said. “I think we're a little deeper or a little bit more about us at defensive end. ... Some of the young guys are going to have to come in and play and play a lot.”
Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia. He is editor of www.SI.com/college/Clemson