Defense Shines Saturday

Justin Miller

CLEMSON – It's amazing what a little rest, motivation and a weaker opponent can do for a team that has struggled all season defensively.

The Tigers defense was so dominant that it set school single game records in rushing defense and sacks. It was the type of performance that players, coaches and fans had been waiting for since the defense's strong showing in the spring game.

Clemson held Utah State to minus-20 yards rushing, while at the same time collecting 11 sacks. Both numbers are team records against Division I opponents.

Each member of the starting defensive line had recorded their first sack of the season by halftime. It was that dominant of a performance in Clemson's 35-6 win.

"The entire defense played great," said reserve defensive end Bobby Williamson. "The defense came out with a certain swagger and a certain attitude that we should have had all year long. Hopefully this will carry over."

The Tigers (2-4, 1-3 ACC) approached this game a little differently by using only three down linemen most of the time, which allowed the ends to stunt and shoot the gaps. While this was going on, a blitzing linebacker or two occupied the other offensive lineman, which allowed the defensive line to have the time of their lives.

"(Defensive coordinator John) Lovett and the defensive coaches put us in the right situations all day long," reserve defensive tackle Cory Groover said.

Such a performance can go a long way toward restoring the confidence of a defense that entered the game ranked 93rd in the nation in rushing defense (223 yards per game), 94th in total defense (421.80 yards per game), and 93rd in scoring defense (31.20 points per game).

Clemson held Utah State to minus-20 yards rushing, while at the same time collecting 11 sacks. Both numbers are team records against Division I opponents.
"This heals (the wounds from losing) a little bit," starting defensive tackle Eric Coleman said. "But it doesn't take everything away until we get back on the right track."

The motivation came from former player and NFL star Michael Dean Perry, who spoke to the defensive unit on Thursday about what kind of intensity and physical play is expected of a Clemson defender.

"I was really happy with the way they came out and played today," Lovett said. "I think it was real important to get that style of play today."

Moreover, for 59:56, the defense pitched a shutout before a host of backups on defense allowed a touchdown by Utah State on the game's final play.

"I think the shutout would have been great," Lovett said. "But I talked to Coach Bowden and I told him that I was going to put some (reserves) in. He wanted the shutout, but I wanted some young guys to play. I didn't want to give up the shutout. I was hoping for those kids (to get it). It would have meant so much to those young guys to get a stop."

Much of the credit for the play of the defense can strangely enough be credited to the offense, which kept the defense off the field for more than half the game, which is a stark difference from the last two contests.

"I think if you can run the ball like we did in the second half, I think that's the biggest thing you can do for your defense," quarterback Charlie Whitehurst said. "Scoring points is good, but if you can keep the defense on the bench and keep them fresh, they're going to perform even better."

That point was proven in spades on Saturday.

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