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Thursday, October 30, 2008
Clemson's defensive progress overshadowed by, well, Clemson

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

So much attention has been paid to Clemson's coaching change, its shocking 3-4 record and its struggling offense that the Tigers' gritty defense has been overshadowed, to say the least.

Clemson enters Saturday's game at Boston College 16th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 16.1 points per game. In the ACC, that's second only to Georgia Tech. Clemson has allowed just three rushing touchdowns all season, and five total touchdowns in the past five games.

It's hardly been a flawless season, but considering the injuries and inexperience they've had to overcome, it's been far from a disaster.

Injuries to four defensive linemen and two linebackers could help explain why Clemson has struggled against the run this year. Four different starters -- defensive tackle Rashaad Jackson (knee), defensive end Ricky Sapp (shoulder), linebacker Brandon Maye (flu) and defensive tackle Jamie Cumbie (wrist) -- have each missed at least a game this season.

Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said the group has matured since the Alabama game.

"We honestly had some guys that were pretty young up front when Rashaad Jackson got hurt and Ricky Sapp got hurt, we got very young up front," Koenning said. "And were already extremely young at linebacker. Alabama kind of got the better of us. ... We still have a lot of young guys, but I think they're getting better."

Brandon Thompson was supposed to redshirt this year, but when Cumbie and Jackson were injured, he moved to the forefront. He has 15 tackles in six games, including five tackles for loss, fourth best on the team.

"I think we've gotten better through the course of the year," linebacker Scotty Cooper said. "Just playing as a team, playing as one and playing for each other. Everybody is not going to make every tackle. A lot of guys understand that. We're just playing as a team and we believe in each other. That's the big improvement of the defense."

The Tigers have more interceptions (8) than touchdown passes allowed (7), and are holding opponents to just six yards per pass attempt. Still, Koenning said the group is capable of more.

"To be honest, we haven't been as good as we can," he said. "We'll have a miscue here, not playing the reverse against Maryland ... we've had one or two or three mistakes in a game and it's cost us, but we're giving up about 10 points a game, ones we've legitimately given up in conference games. We're just trying to drive on some positives."

As far as positives go at Clemson this season, the defense has been it.