When Clemson Tigers football fans consider the best defenses in team history, the 2014 squad, which included the likes of Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford, Tavaris Barnes and Grady Jarrett, will mostly likely be listed among the greats.
In that year, the Tigers, who went 10-3 overall and finished second in the ACC Atlantic Division, were ranked third in the nation in points allowed per game (16.7) and held teams to 260.8 yards per game over the course of the season.
By comparison, Clemson has outscored its opponents 339-91, which amounts to 11.4 points per game so far in 2019. The Tigers are seventh in the nation in that statistic. Coming off another blowout, this time a 59-7 win at home against Boston College, the Tigers put up 674 yards of total offense and held their opponent to 177 yards.
Senior safety Tanner Muse, who accounted for seven tackles and two pass breakups against Boston College, said the talent of Clemson’s current crop of defenders shouldn’t be understated, noting that corner A.J. Terrell and safeties Isaiah Simmons and K’Von Wallace are among the best defensive players in the nation.
“I think the fan base may know more names on the offensive side because this is such a high-powered offense, but this is also the way the media is these days; it’s all about offense,” Muse said. “Nobody really gets excited about a third-down stop anymore. You don't see it on ESPN, and you don't see it on the highlight reels. I know what we have and how high-profile our guys are, and that doesn't really bother us.
“It tears me up when we have shutout or give up less than 200 yards and you don't see it on ESPN. You don't see the turnovers we cause and the stops we cause.”
Muse said he thought the Tigers have done a standout job this season of being aggressive on defense.
“When you watch our guys, there is always more than one hat around the ball,” he said. “When you get that, that is opportunistic, and then you get a lot of tips and picks. The D-line has done a great job of that this season, just getting their hands up for the quick game and stuff like that. I think we've done a great job of just being around the ball. It just pays off. Effort is what it comes down to.”
He said that although the Tigers are talented this year, the team was trying to reach a standard of excellence set by Beasley and Co.
“The standard was set by the 2014 team, which was the best defense we've had here,” Muse said. “That's the standard, and we strive to get to that standard. We were the best scoring defense last year. It was ridiculous. That is the standard, and we are always trying to get to that standard.”
He said a lot of intangible elements go into measuring success on the football field, and despite which Clemson team is the best historically, the 2019 Tigers have the chance to be in that conversation based on how the season is panning out.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to stats,” Muse said. “Everybody wants to know what the stats are. Nobody really looks at how the game is managed and things like that. When you put in subs, things can get skewed in certain ways. If you want to talk about the best it comes down to managing games, and nobody really knows except for the guys in the meeting. We know we have an opportunity to be one of the best.”