Defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ youngins didn’t all play like youngins and his older players mostly proved their worth this season.
Recruiting stars Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy came in with high expectations and it would be a huge understatement to say that they did not disappoint. Especially Murphy, who was forced into a starting role earlier than expected.
Bresee was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, while Murphy came in second. Although, many felt Murphy should have won the award. The two freshmen were outstanding and had immediate impacts as they helped the Tigers lead the nation in sacks with 46 and finish second in tackles for loss with 109.
Bresee, who also earned first team All-ACC honors, had 23 tackles from his defensive tackle position. He started 10 games for the Tigers, had 6.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks. He also blocked a kick and recorded a safety.
Murphy started seven games and led this Clemson defense with 12 tackles for loss. He was also tied for second on the team with four sacks. The freshman defensive end had a total of 41 tackles, forced three fumbles, and broke up one pass during his freshman campaign.
What made these two guys even more exciting was it felt like they could make a huge play every time they stepped onto the field. That has been missed since the Power Rangers left a few years back and it was great to have that type of feeling again on defense.
If there was one Tiger who was missed hugely when out it was definitely Tyler Davis. His worth was realized even more so in the November matchup at Notre Dame when the Tigers gave up 208 yards on the ground.
In the rematch, with him in the lineup, they gave up only 44 yards on the ground. Davis dealt with nagging injuries for most of the season. It was so obvious though that when the defensive tackle was playing, no one could really run on the Tigers. At least when he was close to healthy anyways.
Even with him missing five games Davis still had 14 tackles which included five tackles for loss and two sacks. Before the Sugar Bowl, Clemson’s opponents were averaging less than two yards per carry and 70 rushing yards per game when he was in the lineup.
Then there were defensive ends K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll, who were also productive. Henry had 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, while Mascoll had 4.5 tackles behind the line, including two sacks. Even with him only playing in seven regular season games due to COVID-19, Xavier Thomas had 3.5 sacks to go along with four tackles and a forced fumble.
This group was a huge reason that the Tigers led the ACC in total defense and only allowed nine rushing touchdowns all season. Their only real bad game was against Ohio State, a veteran squad, in the Sugar Bowl.
They held seven of Clemson’s 12 opponents under 100 yards on the ground. The only two teams to gain more than 150 yards on them were Notre Dame in the first meeting and the Buckeyes.