SYRACUSE, N.Y. — It’s OK to punt the ball, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says. But given the inconsistency of some of Clemson’s past defenses, punting might have been a little more nerve-wracking.
Holding Syracuse to no points on two drives in the red zone in the 49-14 win, the Clemson defense came through when it seemed like the Orange were rallying.
“We don’t have to score every time, and I tell you, it’s a great feeling to know you don’t have to score every time,” Swinney said. “Our defense is hard to go the distance against. It’s OK to punt the ball. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The Tigers did need to punt in the third quarter when Syracuse’s defense held them to 2 yards for the majority of the period. Quarterback Tajh Boyd was intercepted, breaking a streak of 187 consecutive passes without a pick.
Syracuse took two drives into the red zone, and Clemson’s defense held them to no points. On the first drive, defensive end Vic Beasley sacked SU quarterback Terrel Hunt on third down, forcing the Orange to attempt a 42-yard field goal that was wide left.
Syracuse made it to Clemson’s 13-yard-line on the next drive, and Hunt’s pass on fourth down was incomplete.
“I really kind of felt going into halftime that we don’t have this one sealed and delivered yet,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We made some huge plays in that third quarter to keep things under wraps.”
Clemson held Syracuse to 397 yards of offense and forced four interceptions. Hunt completed eight of his 24 passes for 52 yards. Outside of allowing 545 yards against Georgia, Clemson has kept all of its opponents under 400 offensive yards this season. Half of the Tigers’ opponents surpassed that mark last season in Venables’ first year.
“Those guys are just unbelievable,” Boyd said. “Those guys are building an identity right now. I’m very confident in them. They take a lot of pressure off you as an offensive group. I feel like we have an opportunity to score every time we get the ball, but at the same time, I know they’re going to hold their weight.”
With eight sacks this season, Beasley has established himself as the star of the defense. Though he thinks the unit is overlooked, he says he’s noticed teams starting to put tight ends on his side and add more protection against him.
“I think teams overlook us a little bit still,” Beasley said. “But we’re coming along.”
The defense might not have caught the offense yet, but strong performances by both have led to a more relaxed environment. When the offense doesn’t score, it feels confident the defense won’t let the other team make up ground.
“It’s a great team effort, and I’m tickled to death,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “Brent and I are high-fiving. He’s going off, and I’m going on, so we’re high-fiving each other. It’s a great atmosphere right now.”