Clemson's defense is in its second year under coordinator Brent Venables, and as such, it is still improving with a new base four-down-lineman scheme. What stands out right away about this Tiger defense is the big plays it makes in the backfield: 61 tackles for loss to lead the nation, including an FBS-best 4.0 sacks/game average (only Virginia Tech has more sacks overall, but in one more game played).
Here are a few tendencies for the Clemson defense that we've seen so far this season.
Based upon down and distance, Clemson will be multiple in the looks it presents. The Tigers will go to a three down-lineman look when a team is behind the chains, either bringing in an extra second level defender or standing up a defensive end off the edge. The Tigers, in traditional downs, are not afraid to play over or under in the 4-3, moving up an outside linebacker as a technical fifth down-lineman as well (think Dan Hicks' role against power sets). If the opposition brings in 22 (two tight ends, two backs) personnel or some other variety of power, the Tigers are not afraid to aggressively stack the box.
Against the high-powered Georgia Bulldogs, Clemson was passive in coverage early on. The defense would give massive cushions to the talented - and then healthy - Georgia receiving corps out of respect for the big play. Keep everything underneath and force the systematic drive seemed to be the early mantra. Even on this fourth down play, the coverage was stacked at or just behind the line to gain in the first half.
Towards the end of the first half, however, Clemson did flip the switch to flash some exotic looks at UGA's Aaron Murray. Here is on example, the interception of Murray late in the first half which was based upon an overload to the quarterback's left, combined with a defensive end dropping to Murray's right in zone coverage. Clearly, the senior did not see this coming.
Given Jameis Winston's numbers against pressure - where he sits comfortably above 70% completions - one of the bigger decisions Venables will have to make is whether he brings pressure often on the redshirt freshman. Winston has already shown he can handle it, but if the Tigers were to start off giving the underneath throw and Winston shows restraint and moves down the field a couple of times, what would the answer be at that point?
Vic Beasley leads the nation is sacks with nine and his team in tackles for loss with 12. He is without question, the Tigers best defensive player. Undersized at 6-2 235 pounds, Beasley relies on his athleticism and good angles to beat offensive tackles and get to the quarterback. He will be Cam Erving's toughest test to this point in the season as FSU has not faced a pass rusher with this kind of ability.
It should also be noted that Beasley was a high school basketball stud. He averaged a double-
double on the hardwood and also racked up over 800 yards rushing his senior year at Adairsville, Ga. He is clearly not your typical defensive lineman. Look for Clemson to utilize Beasley's athleticism by moving him off the line of scrimmage as an outside linebacker in certain situations. His 40 inch vertical leap will also be difficult for Winston to deal with, as he has the potential to bat balls down from the line of scrimmage.
Stephone Anthony leads Clemson in solo tackles and is second (behind Vic Beasley) on the team in tackles for loss with eight. Anthony's greatest strength is his durability. Whether playing inside linebacker in a 3-4, or the Will linebacker in a 4-3, Anthony makes plays. He is athletic enough to cover, but more effective against the run and in tackling in space. FSU will likely look to establish the running game in an effort to slow down Beasley's pass rushing. As a result, the Tigers defense will turn to Anthony to contain the Seminoles three-headed rushing attack.
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