Tigers building depth

Rashard Hall

An encouraging trend for Clemson is that the team's defense continues to develop quality depth.

Evidence of that continued to surface Saturday as sophomore safety Jonathan Meeks got the first start of his career in the Tigers' 27-13 win over Georgia Tech.

Meeks played a career-high 41 snaps and responded with a career-high six tackles and a pass broken up.

"It's been coming for a year now, it really has," Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said of the progression made by Meeks. "I think you noticed last year that he had great ball skills, had good range on the backside of things. He's a good tackler. He's just been coming on. It's not a negative, it's a positive. We've got three starters back there now."

Meeks is listed as a co-starter at free safety with Rashard Hall for Saturday's game at Boston College, the latest in a growing trend of position rotation that is paying dividends for the Tigers. And that is precisely Steele's goal.

"You want competitive situations wherever you can get them," Steele said.

Such situations already exist along the defensive front four, where Miguel Chavis, Jarvis Jenkins, Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore have averaged at least 25 snaps per game each, and at defensive end, where Da'Quan Bowers, Andre Branch and Malliciah Goodman have been interchangeable.

Other backups who have come on of late include cornerback Xavier Brewer, who played 64 snaps Saturday, and linebacker Jonathan Willard, who had three tackles last week.

The improvement is creating spirited battles in practice and allowing many Tigers defenders to hone a fine edge heading into the season's homestretch.

"We're starting to develop some competitive depth, and that's a beautiful thing for accountability," coach Dabo Swinney said.

SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads Boston College, 9-8-2 (last meeting, Clemson won 25-7 at home in 2009)

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Clemson's running and passing games were both effective and efficient in last week's win over Georgia Tech, giving the Tigers hope for a balanced attack the remainder of the season.

Andre Ellington, who had 257 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns last week to earn ACC Player of the Week honors, remains the primary threat and the Tigers' featured back in a duo that also includes Jamie Harper. Ellington has shown a penchant for the big play and now has four runs of 42 yards or more this season.

The receiving corps got a boost last week with the return of freshman DeAndre Hopkins, who missed the Maryland game with sore ribs.

Hopkins led all pass catchers with four for 50 yards, including a highlight-reel, one-handed grab. QB Kyle Parker seems to have developed chemistry with Hopkins and that helped Parker to his best performance in a month. When both attacks are clicking, Clemson's offense can be fairly formidable.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Da'Quan Bowers continues to terrorize opposing offenses and continues to lead the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss. While opponents are consumed with double-teaming Bowers, other players such as Malliciah Goodman and Jarvis Jenkins reap the benefits. Goodman and Jenkins combined for 19 tackles last week.

Linebacker Corico Hawkins also continues to improve and is drawing favorable reviews from defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

"He's a bright guy, and he's doing really well," Steele said. "He will hit you."

Clemson's defensive front continues to impress as well.

"Those guys are going to be playing in the NFL," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said after watching Clemson hold Joshua Nesbitt to 2 yards -- 90 below his season average.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Clemson will have reverse a disturbing trend of losing close games on the road. The Tigers have already lost at No. 1 Auburn and North Carolina by a combined eight points.

"Our challenge is going on the road and playing a complete game because we have yet to do that," Swinney said.

The key to success for Clemson may lie in its ability to run the ball, which is something few opponents have been able to do against Boston College. The Eagles rank fourth nationally and first in the ACC in run defense, allowing only 83.6 yards per game.

"We've got to make a legitimate attempt to run the ball, and that's going to take great communication and a great plan," Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier said. "We have to focus more on what we can do rather than what they're doing."

To be successful, either Andre Ellington or Jamie Harper will have to have a big day running the ball, and the key to that will come up front, where the Tigers hope that a veteran offensive line will be enough to overcome a defense geared to stop the run.

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