Talented defense powers undefeated Clemson Tigers
In a battle of two teams near the top of the ACC, Clemson emerged victorious over Florida State in no small part because of a strong defense that held the Seminoles to their lowest scoring output this season. As the Tigers have for much of the year, they dominated at the line of scrimmage — three Clemson defensive linemen graded at +2.5 or higher, including a season high +4.0 grade for Christian Wilkins, who tallied four stops in just 31 defensive snaps. Perhaps even more telling is that four of the Seminoles’ offensive linemen in this game came away with a -2.0 grade or worse, and though Dalvin Cook had a strong day on the ground, over two thirds of his yardage came after first contact. This is indicative of a rushing attack that wasn’t opening up running lanes with much regularity, the second offensive play of the game notwithstanding.
Yet with the playmakers the Clemson Tigers have on defense, a result like this is hardly surprising. Shaq Lawson ranks 13th in our defensive end rankings, as both his run defense and pass rushing have topped +10.0 on the year. On the opposite side Kevin Dodd is close behind, notching three fewer sacks this year but recording more total pressure. Accounting for over 80 percent of the team’s snaps at linebacker, Ben Boulware and B.J. Goodson each have double-digit grades in the green, grading inside the top ten percent of off-the-ball linebackers. Even guys that aren’t dominating our grading — like corners Cordrea Tankersley and Mackensie Alexander — have more than held their own. Quarterbacks targeting the duo have completed just 35 percent of their passes and have a combined QB rating of 39.5 — a passer rating actually lower than if a quarterback simply threw every pass straight into the dirt.
What’s most impressive about this defense isn’t a handful of impact defenders carrying the unit — it’s the complete lack of a weak link across this side of the ball. Only five of the 35 players to suit of for the Tigers’ defense have graded negatively on the season, and only one has topped 60 snaps. Compare that with 21 guys grading in the green (+1.0 or above) and you’ve got a championship-caliber unit that may just be fighting for a title at season’s end.