With several blowouts and near shutouts under their belts well past the midpoint of the 2019 season, coaches for the Clemson Tigers have been pleased with their players' progression and production on the defensive side of the ball.
According to head coach Dabo Swinney, who is overseeing a defense that has allowed only 91 points all year, the defense has hit its stride at the optimal time.
“Eight straight games our defense has been incredibly consistent,” Swinney said. “We have had our moments at certain times in games here or there, but for the most part, we have played really well. I think coming into the season the objectives after eight games we have achieved — I think we have developed the type of depth at D-end and D-tackle that we need, especially going into November and December.”
He pointed to numerous players, including freshman defensive ends Justin Mascoll and K.J. Henry and sophomore end Logan Rudolph, who have grown significantly since the start of the season. He said the same has held true for freshman inside lineman Tyler Davis.
“Tyler Davis has played eight games now, and he is not a rookie any more,” Swinney said. “He has really gotten better and better. And then Nyles (Pinckney), Jordan (Williams) and Darnell (Jefferies), we have just developed some solid depth inside. The same thing at linebacker. It has been really good. We are ahead of last year’s defense in a lot of areas.”
Swinney said Williams and Pinckney have been “great leaders” for other players on the Tigers’ defense.
“Jordan has had his moments, has not been quite as consistent as Nyles, but Nyles is a fourth-year guy, and Jordan is a third-year guy,” Swinney said. “(We) need Jordan to be a little more consistent, but he's a hard worker and his attitude is off the charts, but there's still more there for him. He's still an improving, learning player."
At the linebacker position, Swinney said sophomore Brandon Spector, senior Chad Smith and junior James Skalski have shown marked improvement over the course of the season.
“He could start for us,” Swinney said about Spector.” I look at him as a starter. ... He's got a bright future. I am super proud of him. He played 22 snaps yesterday for us and had six tackles. He's a very committed guy. He prepares well. He's explosive and has gotten strong. He's a physical presence on the field every time he is out there."
“Skalski has been awesome all year,” Swinney added. “Chad didn't have quite as much experience as far as linebacker play, but he's got his legs under him now. I think he played his best game (in a 59-7 win against Boston College). He was productive and was where he was supposed to be. He did a really good job for us.
“He and Tanner Muse were awesome for us yesterday. He has had to work on his consistency but a little bit of that is him playing in a bigger role for us. After eight games I really like where he is. Skalski has been the heart all year."
At defensive tackle, freshman Ruke Orhorhoro, who played in his fourth game on Saturday against Boston College, has been a quick study at his position, Swinney said.
“I know sometimes you just don't get to play some of them as much as you want, but he's a guy that we feel like we need,” the coach said about Orhorhoro. “Just to have in there for seem depth and continue bringing along. He didn't even start playing football until like the 10th or 11th grade, so he's learning every day. He's got some really good natural gifts. He’s a big body and strong, but he's still learning."