In fact, it's not doing justice to the word "struggled."
Yes, the Tigers have won the Atlantic Division crown twice in the past three years, and they did win the ACC championship last year. But, for the most part, those titles came in spite of the defense, not because of it.
Clemson played championship football, but it certainly did not play championship defense. And the numbers back that up.
Now, I'm not really a numbers guy. Teams, coaches and fans can twist numbers to say whatever they want them to say, but in this case, the numbers were pretty clear with Kevin Steele as Clemson's defensive coordinator. That's why there was a change in that position going into this season.
Last season, Clemson's defense allowed 375 points in 14 games (and that's not including any special teams returns or turnovers by the Clemson offense that were returned for touchdowns). Those are just the points the defense allowed, and that's not good. There's no way to sugar coat it, and it was even worse against team from BCS conferences (27.4 points per game).
Yet, Clemson won the ACC championship because it had enough offensive weapons (Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Dwayne Allen, Andre Ellington, DeAndre Hopkins, etc.) to cover up its defensive flaws.
That's almost exactly how the 2009 season went, as well. Clemson won its division because of C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford, Kyle Parker and a high-powered offense, not because of its defense. That unit allowed 18.9 points per game (265 points in 14 games), and it allowed 21.9 points per game against teams from BCS conferences. Those numbers aren't terrible, but there were real problems in the defense that were exposed that season (See: Georgia Tech and South Carolina).
Even in the 2010 season when Clemson stumbled to a 6-7 record because its offense simply couldn't score (the defense allowed 18.2 points per game that year), the defense struggled to get stops when it needed to with close games on the line (See: Auburn and Florida State).
And that really was a running theme of Steele's tenure. Too many times Clemson allowed opponents to convert on third down to keep drives going in key situations that led to losses. His defenses allowed 30 points or more in a game 12 times in three seasons, and that's simply too much.
After the debacle in the Orange Bowl (yes, the running joke that West Virginia just scored again is quite popular), Dabo Swinney made the decision that he had seen enough and made a change. A very similar decision with a move from Billy Napier to Chad Morris the year before paid off in a big way for Swinney and his staff.
He has to hope to get similar results with his switch to Brent Venables as defensive coordinator, and there's no reason to believe that won't happen. Venables did a really good job during his long tenure on the Oklahoma coaching staff, and Clemson already has seen how his arrival has helped in recruiting. Having better players leads to better defenses, especially when they're well-coached.
Steele has a long track record in coaching – some of it good, some of it not so good. But something just didn't click with the Clemson program. Maybe his schemes were too complicated, or maybe he just wasn't getting his point across to the players. But it just wasn't working.
Too many times Clemson defenders, especially the linebackers, were seen looking over to the sideline right at the snap to see what they were supposed to be doing and where they were supposed to be going. Because of that, they were a step slow and didn't tackle well because of poor technique.
Venables' approach will be simpler and more direct, and that should lead to faster and more physical defenders who are better tacklers. After all it can't get much worse than it has been recently.
One word says it all: Seventy.
After that, there was no way Steele could stay around. A change had to be made, and Swinney made the right choice in the replacement he picked.
Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM.
CUTigers.com Top Stories
TIGERS REMAIN #3 IN BOTH POLLSWith Ohio State losing and Michigan jumping to #2, idle Clemson sits at #3 in both of Sunday's polls.
GRADES AND ANALYSIS: NC State#3 Clemson committed 4 turnovers, including 3 in the red zone and a pick-six, in its 24-17 overtime win over NC State in Death Valley.
CUTigers.comThursday at 2:52 PM
Clemson Basketball Media DayWatch Head Coach Brad Brownell and his assistant coaches discuss the upcoming basketball season at Clemson Media Day!
CUTigers.comThursday at 1:30 PM
PHOTO GALLERY: #3 Clemson vs NC StateEnjoy these images from Clemson's thrilling overtime victory versus NC State in Death Valley, courtesy of CUTigers Photographer John Bolton!
CUTigers.comThursday at 11:12 AM