College Football Playoff: Clemson Defense In Focus

Last Updated: 2017-12-28

Three teams in the College Football Playoff give up between 11.5 points and 13.2 points per game on the defensive side of the ball. However, the fourth team gives up 25 points per game. On the surface, you may not know who the first three teams are but you definitely know the program that’s letting opponents score almost double of every other participant in the College Football Playoff. That’s why the semi finals are an intriguing mix of styles.

No. 1 Clemson Tigers Defense- ACC Champions

The Clemson Tigers are entering their third straight College Football Playoff. The three time ACC Champions are the No. 1 seed for the second time. However, they enter their semifinal matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide with one loss. Just like the last two years, the Clemson Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide are meeting in the postseason, however, this time the winner moves into the national championship game. In prior years, the winner took the trophy home on the strength of a great offense. Well, this battle might come down to which defense plays a more dominant style on Monday.

The Tigers have the No. 2 scoring defense in college football, giving up 12.8 points per game. They are directly behind the Crimson Tide. Moreover, it’s difficult to tell which defense is more dominant this season. Yes, the Tigers lost to the Syracuse Orange earlier in the season. The 27-24 loss came with a wounded quarterback missing the second half. Yet, the Tigers couldn’t get the meaningful stop in the passing game.

When it comes down to it, we all want to know if the Tigers can stop the run game in the semifinals. They are giving up 3.1 yards per carry. Three opponents averaged over four yards per carry this season. Those teams were Louisville, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State. They also held five opponents below three yards per carry this season. But how good is their run defense on a national scale? Well, they sport the No. 12 run defense at 112.8 yards per game. In other words, two College Football Playoff teams are ahead of the Tigers, including Monday’s opponent. Yet, the Tigers are No. 9 in yards per carry. Therefore, they are used to opponents trying to implement the run game at all cost. That’s exactly what the Crimson Tide will do.

The Tigers are ranked 33rd in turnover margin. Interestingly enough, they are tied with the Oklahoma Sooners and Georgia Bulldogs with a +5 turnovers. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide are at No. 7 with a +12 turnover margin. However, the Tigers forced 19 turnovers, while Alabama forced 20 miscues. Therefore, it will be interesting to see if they can make Jalen Hurts uncomfortable. During the Crimson Tide’s only defeat, they lost focus with the shotgun snap as their offense unraveled.

This is probably the best front 7 in college football. Clelin Ferrell leads the Tigers with 8.5 sacks. The Tigers led college football with 44 total sacks. However, they had the No. 2 ranking with 3.38 sacks per game. The sacks will be great against the Crimson Tide. Still, the Tigers need to get consistent pressure on Hurts without giving him game-changing running lanes on third downs. Hurts almost beat the Tigers with numerous plays in the fourth quarter, including a historic touchdown run that’s been forgotten due to Deshaun Watson’s final touchdown drive.

Defensive back Trayvon Mullen has to get first crack at the best receiver. Mullen brings plenty of size to the corner position and is tied for the team lead with three interceptions. However, he only has three pass breakups. Meanwhile, Ryan Carter enters the game with three interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Either way, the secondary will be under the microscope on third downs. Clearly, the Crimson Tide are coming into the game with a powerful ground attack. As a result, this game will hinge on who can win the battles on the perimeter.

The Tigers held their first two SEC opponents to 16 total points this season. They defeated the Auburn Tigers, 14-6 in Week 2. They also won their yearly instate battle with South Carolina, 34-10.

Overall, Clemson gave up 19 offensive touchdowns. Fourteen of those touchdowns came via the passing game. Louisville, Syracuse and North Carolina State each had three touchdown passes apiece. The Tigers still kept six other opponents without a touchdown pass. That includes a 38-3 win over the Miami Hurricanes in the ACC Championship game. The Tigers never gave up two rushing touchdowns in a game this year. As a result, they held five opponents to single digits without posting a single shutout. It’s not certain, but if the Tigers hold the Crimson Tide to one rushing touchdown, they have a great chance to win. The Crimson Tide scored three rushing touchdowns per game in 2017.

The semifinal matchup really has a chance to be a different game than the first two contests. At least Clemson knows they can rely on their defense if they must. And their defense really refocused on the minute details in the final four games. After giving up 31 points to the Wolfpack, the Tigers have allowed 30 points in the last four contests. They’ll be hard to dethrone giving up 7.5 points per game. Still, they know the Crimson Tide are one of the teams that can really shut down opponents for long stretches.


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