Earlier in the week, the Fizz covered Sean Hickey’s comments about the Clemson defensive line. For those who don’t know, Hickey said: “That whole defensive line is the best D-line overall that this team has seen in five years. Easily. No one comes close.”
While Hickey is certainly making a bold claim, the statistics actually back up what the senior believes to be true. The Fizz took a closer look at No. 21 Clemson’s defense ahead of Saturday’s tilt with the Tigers.
Hickey is referencing a Clemson front-seven that is eighth-best in the country in sacks per game. The Tigers are taking out opposing quarterbacks 3.7 times on average each contest. In addition, the Tigers D has held opponents to just 119 rushing yards per game, 21st in the nation. The Tigers also have the second-most tackles for loss per game, at 9.4. Syracuse, on the other hand, is allowing almost six per game.
Clemson’s stout defense is led by its core of seniors. Defensive end Vic Beasley is the star of the group. Beasley currently ranks fourth in the nation with eight sacks, and it is very likely that Hickey will be the one opposite Beasley come Saturday. He was a consensus All-American in 2013.
Opposite Beasley on the defensive line is fellow senior Corey Crawford who has 5.5 tackles for loss including a sack. Seniors Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson start at the tackle position. Jarrett has 21 tackles and three tackles for loss, while Watson has 11 tackles and a sack.
Hickey and the rest of the offensive line must protect freshman quarterback A.J. Long from the Tigers’ experienced front-four and give him time to throw the ball. While Long can definitely use his legs to extend the play, Clemson is far too good a team to be making poor decisions against.
The running game will not be much of an option against Clemson, either. On the road, Syracuse is going to have a near-impossible task of establishing momentum without a run game that can set the pace of the game. Long was already thrown into the fire against the Seminoles, and this time he is facing a better defense on the road.
Clemson tends to excel in the first half of games: they have outscored their opponents 142-48 in the first half alone. However, the defense softens in the second half, having allowed 86 points total. Therefore, Hickey and the Orange have to hang around into the second half to have any chance of winning this game. By keeping it close, the team will give itself a chance to strike late in the game against a tired, premiere defense.
Posted: Jason Weingold