It’s an odd combination for Tiger fans, coaches and players alike to digest.
The last time the Tigers’ total defense outranked the total offense – before games one through eight this season – was 2010 in a 6-7 campaign.
Clemson’s defense is playing significantly better than its offense, the wins still coming despite the Chad Morris scheme scraping rock-bottom.
Three games, three offensive touchdowns, yet three victories for a group coming off back-to-back seasons among the nation’s top-10 in total and scoring offense.
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“A win is a win to me,” senior left guard David Beasley said. “Might not score as you want to, like Clemson – we used to be known for our offense. Our offense was tremendous the last four and three years. I’m just happy to see defense taking it back over again, because defense wins championships.
“Ain’t nothing wrong with winning ugly. A win is a win. I just want to win out.”
“It feels nice to have the defense we have,” Clemson senior quarterback Cole Stoudt said. “The previous two games, they stopped in the fourth quarter on the last drive – that’s huge and it’s great knowing that if the offense does something wrong, the defense can back us up.”
The past three Tiger contests have been decided 10 or fewer points (6.7 PPG) – a stretch Clemson hasn’t seen in 53 games (2010, going 1-2 against No. 17 FSU, No. 25 N.C. State, BC) – and not with three wins since 1993 (4 PPG in wins against Virginia, South Carolina and Kentucky).
In his sixth full season as Clemson’s coach, Dabo Swinney has said more than once in the past week that he prefers 16-6 (against Syracuse) to 50-35 wins (against UNC earlier this season). His defensive coordinator would take a little more breathing room.
“Those games, sometimes you feel in control,” Brent Venables said, “but you recognize you’re one play, one guy out of a gap, one busted coverage from losing control of the game. Really it’s a rather uncomfortable feeling during the course of the game.
“I’d much rather have a 31 or so point lead and worry about getting the other guys in and (worry about) playing sloppy – that’s uncomfortable (too).”
That said, Venables says the effort of his unit is no bigger than the whole outfit.
“Our fans should be proud of our players – all of our players,” Venables said. “As a football team, we’ve really had to scrap the last month. Our offense is trying to overcome enormous obstacles and things you don’t plan for. Whether that’s early season or fall camp, losing some linemen as well, besides the injuries that have taken place. That’s a depleted unit over there and yet they’ve still had a huge part late in the last few games to settle these last few wins.
“It’s a collective effort. Ammon Lakip, Bradley Pinion – they’ve both been outstanding during this last month or so. These five games we’ve won in a row. Everybody is doing their part under the circumstances.”
Clemson’s strong offensive starts early in the season (TDs in four of five opening drives) have turned into major struggles over the past three games (zero offensive points in the first quarter). When the Tigers have needed fourth-quarter points, however, they’ve put up three scoring drives to either take the lead or go up two scores in the last three games – and have chewed up the clock as well, averaging more than nine minutes of possession.
“Our defense has had to play a lot these last few games,” Beasley said. “Just (gives) confidence of us as an offense, we haven’t been scoring as we’ve wanted – we have been driving the ball, but haven’t been putting together scoring drives.”
He expects the Tigers to build on those efforts for a strong finish, getting healthier as group over the next couple games.
“I want to get back to where we just dominate,” Beasley said. “Run through and dominate teams, and I think we'll get back to that with a couple players coming back off injuries – the Clemson offense is about to step back up and take some heat off our defense.”