Clemson had one of the best defensive units in the country last year, and Oklahoma got an up-close look at the Tigers’ top ranked unit – built in less than three years by former Sooners’ defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
The biggest challenge of this season was doing it again. Clemson lost six seniors off its defensive line, including the program’s career sack leader Vic Beasley. The Tigers’ leading tackler, linebacker Stephone Anthony, also graduated. Somehow but mostly because of the efforts of Venables, Clemson pairly skipped a beat – allowing just 35 more yards and barely more than a field goal more per game this season.
“There's a lot of defense there,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “He's done a really good job with all those guys being disruptive and getting tackles for loss and getting pressure. So he and his staff have done a really good job with it.”
Usually, Venables and Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops get together in the offseason to swap ideas. Mike Stoops laughed when he said that luckily it didn’t happen this offseason, although it probably would have been worse for their opponents.
Both Oklahoma and Clemson ranked at the top of their conferences in pass defense and the Tigers were again one of the top defenses in the nation.
Oklahoma did it with experience, but Clemson had to reload.
B.J. Goodson had 45 tackles in three years before stepping in at middle linebacker and finishing with a team-high 91 this season. Ben Boulware became the starter at weak-side linebacker and made 71 tackles this season.
6-foot-3 T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse – 6-foot-5, 220 pounds – have lived up to the billing as one of the top safety combinations in the country. Mackensie Alexander is one of the top shutdown cornerbacks in the country but counterpart Cordrea Tankersley, who had just 24 tackles in two years, finished with five interceptions and 39 tackles.
That’s given a defensive line enough time to grow – and finish the season ranked 12th in sacks and 23rd in run defense.