Defensive Line Making Impact For No. 3 Clemson

Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is glad to see the third-ranked Tigers getting attention for their defense. Expect that to continue if the group keeps playing this strongly.

The accolades will continue if the unit keeps shutting teams down.

Clemson has held its past four opponents to 14 points of less, something that hadn’t been done since the first four games of the 2000 season. And a big reason is the play of the defensive line, which leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with 19 sacks. Defensive end Vic Beasley leads the country with eight sacks.

The Tigers (5-0, 3-0 ACC) hope to keep that defensive success going against Boston College (3-2, 1-1).

Clemson has risen in the rankings in recent seasons fueled by a record-setting, quick-strike offense behind quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.

Jarrett believes the defensive line, a question mark when the season began, has stepped up to make a name for itself and contribute to the Tigers’ undefeated start.

“On TV, they’ve got Vic as an impact player and that’s good that we’ve somebody on defense finally getting some notice,” Jarrett said. “Everyone on the d-line is getting attention as well. It’s good for us.”

Clemson’s defense leads the nation in with almost four sacks per game, ranks second with 10 tackles for loss per game, is fourth with nearly seven three-and-outs per game and is fifth in third-down defense with opponents converting less than 25 percent of the time.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables likes what he sees from his front line, but says there are many areas left to clean up if the Tigers are to compete for titles.

Despite holding Syracuse to two touchdowns in a 49-14 victory at the Carrier Dome last week, the Tigers gave up 397 yards – their most on the year since Georgia put up 545 yards in Clemson’s season-opening victory. A big reason is the run defense, which ranks 12th in the 14-team ACC in allowing more than 171 yards a game on the ground.

Clemson’s given up nine rushing touchdowns, also the third worst total in the ACC. That included 66 and 28 yard touchdown runs by Syracuse that Venables said were due to correctible yet exasperating mental breakdowns.

“I take little gratification on the other (improvements) because with that you can get beat by a lot of good people in a tighter game,” he said.

Jarrett said he’ll make sure things tighten up this week against the Eagles, who feature the nation’s leading rusher in Andre Williams. Williams had a career-high 263 yards and five touchdowns last week in a win against Army.

Boston College also has one of the tallest, widest and most experienced offensive lines in the ACC. No one is shorter than 6-foot-3 and its only starter under 300 pounds is right guard Harris Williams at 298.

“We’ve got a pretty good offensive line,” first-year Boston College coach Steve Addazio says. “A lot of people would like to have this offensive line.”

Plenty of people would like to have Clemson’s depth on the defensive line, too.

Beasley led the team with eight sacks a year ago and at a smallish 235 pounds was considered a pass rush specialist who could be an every-down defender. Beasley, though, has maintained his speed and sack ability while causing havoc at the line during run plays, Jarrett said.

Jarrett, at 6-1, 295, pounds, is considered the run stuffer, a description he doesn’t like much at all.

“I always feel like I’ve been a disruptive player,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of quarterback pressure. I’ve just got to get some sacks.”

It’s could be even harder for Jarrett to accomplish as Venables and line coach Dan Brooks run several players through the lineup. Freshman Shaq Lawson has two sacks, 6 ½ tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries. Tackle D.J. Reader, a 325-pound sophomore who doubles as a first baseman on the Tigers’ baseball team, has a sack and three quarterback hurries in a 107 snaps.

Jarrett leads the linemen with 32 tackles. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called him the heart and soul of the defense, joking that it was about time someone asked a question about Jarrett’s play.

Venables is happy to have a well-rounded leader and hard worker like Jarrett to rely on in the trenches.

“There’s not a day that he wakes up, I bet you, that he believes that he’s arrive,” Venables said. “He takes ownership in his responsibilities and thrives in that role.”