Unlike 2018, the Clemson secondary was thought to be the strongest part of the Tiger defense coming into 2019. Having to replace six starters from the front seven, the secondary was loaded with experienced upperclassmen who were battle tested.
As the 2019 season played out, Brent Venables defense never missed a beat, and the secondary was a big reason why. Statistically, this group performed at an even higher level than last years group despite the fact that the entire front four had been replaced. Not only were there four new starters up front, they had lost a lot of size on the interior of the DL.
A dominant front four can mask deficiencies on the back end. Without one, guys in the secondary have to cover longer, making their chances for getting beat higher. So far throughout the 2019 season though, this Clemson secondary has more than held its own.
Heading into its Fiesta Bowl matchup with Ohio State, the Tigers defense led nation in pass defense, giving up just 138.5 yards per game. Part of that was due to not facing many prolific offenses throughout the season, but when you have guys like AJ Terrell and Derion Kendrick on the corners, you are going to have a stingy pass defense.
Terrell gets most of the attention, but Kendrick has been more than serviceable in his first season as a cornerback. He’s actually been rather impressive, and opposing QB’s have taken notice, as they rarely test the first year starter at the position.
If the Tigers are to win another national title in 2019, the back end of the defense is going to have to play a major role. LSU QB Joe Burrow and those wideouts are capable of shredding the best of defenses, this Clemson defense included. Much like against Ohio State, the Tiger defense will need to minimize the big, explosive plays.
Shutting down this explosive LSU offense that’s averaging over 550 yards of offense per game just isn’t going to happen. Especially when you take into account the aggressive nature in which this Tiger defense attacks under Brent Venables. Not having the dominant front, the Tigers have relied more heavily on blitzes to get pressure, and when you blitz, you leave an area of the field vulnerable, and Burrow has been fantastic at beating the blitz.
The secondary will need to keep everything in front of them, and limit the big plays down the field. Don’t let those dynamic wide receivers beat them over the top, and make LSU drive the field and earn it. Relying on long, sustained drives for points just isn’t the recipe for beating this Clemson team, and it won’t be for LSU either.
This also allows for the Tigers strong red zone defense to come into play. Strong defense inside the red zone was one of the biggest factors in the win over Ohio State. If the Tigers are to win their third title in four years, it will have to be a factor again on January 13.