It's OK to focus on defense

Dabo Swinney said Thursday night he likes to win with defense.

That hasn't happened a lot recently with the Clemson football team, so Tigers fans might have forgotten what it's like to win ugly.

And that it's OK to do so.

It is … after all, even in this day and age of video-game scores and teams running up and down the field and putting up mind-numbing offensive statistics. There's nothing wrong with playing a little defense here and there to shake things up a bit.

Clemson showed that Thursday night. While the Tigers' offense was just a bit off here and there throughout the night (a couple of missed chances at long touchdowns, some sloppy offensive penalties), the defense was stout from start to finish.

Other than two long drives, including a meaningless score late, N.C. State's offense didn't do a whole lot.

Even with allowing 35 points to Georgia in a shootout in the opener, although that's nothing to be shocked about with the Bulldogs' dynamic offense, the defense has buckled down this season and is playing much better fundamentally. There have been mistakes, and there always are going to be with any football team, but there haven't been nearly as many missed assignments or busted coverages through the first three games. Both of those things were big-time problems the past few years, but they seem to be something the coaching staff is getting a handle on with this defense.

Because of that, and not allowing big play after big play, the defense forced N.C. State to work long and hard to get its points, and the Wolfpack just weren't able to do that consistently enough. N.C. State finished with 378 yards, 213 passing and 165 rushing, and those are respectable numbers for the defense. Wolfpack quarterback Pete Thomas completed only 20-of-37 passes, and he really wasn't much of a threat for most of the night.

Pressure, pressure, pressure
A lot of that was because Thomas didn't have much time to set up and actually look down the field as Clemson's pass rush made him uncomfortable. Thomas was sacked five times, and that raises the Tigers' total to 13 for the season, which is a pretty solid number.

Vic Beasley has been a terror out of the blocks this season, and he is forming a pretty nice group with Corey Crawford and Shaq Lawson on the outside. Remember, Beasley and Crawford are juniors, while Lawson is only a freshman so those three should be together for one more season after this season.

First things first, they have a lot of the season to play this year, and if they continue to play like they have in the first three games, they could have a memorable season.

Third-down success
One of my favorite stats to look at in football is third-down conversions. It typically is critical to which teams win and lose games, and it really has helped Clemson's cause this season. The Wolfpack finished 3-of-16 on third-down tries, and that was huge because Clemson's defense kept N.C. State from getting into any kind of rhythm throughout the game.

That has been a trend throughout the season so far, much like the quarterback pressure by the defense, and those two really go hand-in-hand a lot of times.

Clemson's opponents this season are just 14-of-48 on third down, which breaks down to 29.2 percent. That's a number any team will win a lot of games with.

Protecting the ball
Tajh Boyd was off, along with the rest of the offense, for portions of the game Thursday night. But we're probably being too picky because the expectations are pretty high for that group. After all, he completed 24-of-37 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns, and the Tigers did run for 171 yards on 40 carries. But Boyd and the offense have set the bar so high that that is considered an off night.

One thing Boyd can't be criticized about so far this year is ball security.

Clemson has two turnovers in three games, while its opponents have committed seven, again a number any team can win a lot of games with.

One of the Clemson turnovers was a fumbled punt by Sammy Watkins against Georgia, while backup quarterback Cole Stoudt lost a fumble against South Carolina State.

So Boyd, who often has been criticized for making bad decisions or being careless with the ball, has ZERO turnovers. That's a number Clemson certainly can win a lot of games with.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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