October 21, 2014

(AP) - The defense is grabbing the headlines for 21st-ranked Clemson - but not for the points it allows.

The group has given up 30 points in the past three contests and made game-saving stops the last two weeks. Next up is a visit Saturday night from Syracuse, which enters with some confidence following its highest-scoring game in over a month.

''Having us on the field to save the game or keep the game in our favor, we like those situations,'' safety Jayron Kearse said.

That hasn't always been the case. The Tigers (5-2, 4-1 ACC) were known for their high-flying, quick-tempo attack that could put the game out of reach by halftime. While Clemson's defense held on, it took a back seat the past three years to offensive stars like Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington.

When the defense had the chance to step up in big spots during that span, it did not. There was the 2011 Orange Bowl embarrassment when it surrendered a postseason record of points in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia.

Last season in a top-five showdown at home, Clemson was stomped by Florida State 51-14 - the most points an opponent's ever scored at Death Valley. Even starting this year, the Tigers wore out in the fourth quarter at Georgia as the Bulldogs rolled up 201 yards and three touchdowns in their 45-21 victory.

Things have changed dramatically since with the Tigers permitting only 253.7 yards per game over their last six, and they rank fifth in the FBS with an average of 282.7 yards allowed.

Clemson's highlights have come the past two weeks. Louisville drove to the Tigers' 1 before defensive lineman DeShawn Williams batted away a fourth-down pass in a 23-17 victory. This past Saturday, Boston College moved to Clemson's 26 before the Tigers forced four incompletions in the final two minutes of a 17-13 win.

''If we're in those situations and a team is able to score the game-winning drive on a defense, that shows that we're really not as good as we think we are,'' Kearse said. ''But two weeks back to back, we were able get a stop, get our offense the ball so we could take a knee and win the game.''

For Clemson, it starts up front with senior defensive end Vic Beasley and defensive tackles in Williams and Grady Jarrett. Beasley has eight sacks and set the school record with his 29th to move past ex-NFL standouts Michael Dean Perry and the late Gaines Adams.

''They don't even like to let them get the pass off so that kind of helps us having them up front,'' Kearse said.

Clemson had four sacks and 14 tackles for loss in limiting Boston College to 120 yards rushing after the Eagles came in averaging more than 315 on the ground.

''I'm glad they're on our side,'' Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.

Especially this season where Clemson's offense has lost its punch and several key performers, most notably rising freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson who is out at least two more games with a broken finger. Top rusher Adam Choice and leading tight end Jordan Leggett injured knees against Boston College, and Choice out for the season.

Safety T.J. Green said the defense will keep on doing what it does best, helping Clemson win games.

''When we're out there, we're just playing comfortably, we're playing together, we trust everybody on the defense to do their job,'' he said. ''It makes it easier for everybody to just do what they're supposed to do.''

Syracuse (3-4, 1-2) ended a four-game losing streak with a 30-7 win at Wake Forest last week, its most points since beating Central Michigan 40-3 on Sept. 13.

Orange defensive end Robert Welsh said the win made them 1-0 in the season's second half.

''Now, it's on to Clemson, try and go down there, they're a real good team, and try and go 2-0,'' he said.

Clemson won 49-14 at Syracuse last season. This will be the Orange's first visit to Death Valley.

''I'm looking forward to it. It's obviously one of the great venues in college football,'' coach Scott Shafer said Tuesday, adding that he'll ramp up the noise at practice to get the team ready for the 80,000 fans expected at Memorial Stadium.

''It'll be a great experience for our kids. We just need to continue to get more consistent. We've got to try to look forward, not backward.''

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