Clemson isn’t playing like one of the top teams in the country because of a high-scoring offense, dominant defense or big plays on special teams. What makes the Tigers so hard to beat is they are playing well in all three phases.
Over the past four weeks Clemson is averaging almost 46 points per game, and while the defense struggled at times against Louisville, Brent Venables’ unit is ranked No. 9 in the country, allowing 282 yards per game.
Special teams helped turn the Louisville game around. Artavis Scott’s kickoff return gave the Tigers momentum after Louisville had taken an eight-point lead. Kickoff return defense was a weakness last season, but Clemson is currently ranked No. 5 in the country, and Ray-Ray McCloud is No. 12 in the nation in punt returns, averaging more than 13 yards per attempt.
“We want to be a three-headed monster. We want to be a team that can beat you on offense, defense and special teams, and I think we’ve done that this year,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’ve not always put all three together, but we’ve demonstrated that we can win in three different ways.”
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The Tigers played their best game of the season last Friday at Boston College, according to Swinney.
Clemson outgained BC 508-251 and did not turn the ball over on offense. The only turnover came on McCloud’s dropped punt inside the 10 in the first quarter that led to a Boston College field goal.
McCloud has struggled fielding punts at times this year but is such a weapon in the return game that he will keep his job, at least for now.
“You look at the whole body of work, if it continues to happen it’ll be a shorter leash, but right now we’ve got confidence in him,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “He has been a difference-maker for us in the return game. He’s just got to catch the ball 100 percent of the time.”
Part of what led to the Boston College game getting out of hand was Clemson building an early lead. While the Eagles scored the first three points of the game, Clemson led 21-3 after one quarter and then began to flex its muscles.
Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables said when the offense puts points on the board early it’s a big plus for his defense.
“It can dramatically change what’s going on offensively with our opponent when that’s happening and maybe makes them more predictable,” he said.
Clemson had three touchdowns of 45 yards or more against Boston College, and seven of the eight touchdown drives lasted less than 2.5 minutes.
While that doesn’t provide much rest for the defense, the offense scoring in a hurry is fine with Venables.
“Our job is to stop people, period, point blank, end of story,” Venables said. “We’ve been really good on offense for about five years, been incredibly explosive.”
Clemson is playing well on both sides of the ball right now and it’s showing on the scoreboard.
“We’ve really, for the most part, complimented each other well, and when we’ve complimented each other well we crush people,” Venables said.
Who: No. 3 Clemson (6-0, 3-0 ACC) vs. N.C. State (4-1, 1-0)
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium