The Clemson defense finished the 2018 season, as one of the best defenses in school history.
The Tigers, under the leadership of coordinator Brent Venables, ended the season ranked fifth in total defense (allowing 278.9 yards per game), 24th in pass defense (allowing 189.6 yards per game), fourth in rush defense (allowing 96.27 yards) and first nationally in scoring defense (allowing only 13.1 points per game).
By comparison, in 2014, the Tigers ended the season with their best defense ever, they finished first in total defense (allowing only 260.8 yards per game), second in pass defense (allowing 157.4 yards per game), fifth in rush defense (102.43 yards per game) and third in scoring defense (16.7 yards per game).
While the 2014 season may still be considered the measuring stick for Tiger defenses, this year was different for Venables.
“Just our consistency. It's been a lot of fun to coach them,” Venables said. “It’s a group of guys that really enjoy each other. They've got great chemistry. Every year is different. Some years are easier than others, and this is a year that's really been easy. We've got great leadership at all three levels, and, again, a great group of guys that love and respect each other, that love Clemson. I think that's important.”
When the final whistle blew in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship and Venables looked up at the scoreboard and saw that his Tiger defense held an Alabama Crimson Tide offense that averaged 527.64 yards per game and 47.71 points per game to only 443 yards and 16 points, he had only one thing to say.
“The best ever. This team is the best ever,” Venables said. “The first team in history to go 15-0, to hold this offense to only 16 points. There is no question this team is the best team ever.”
But now, Venables will face his biggest challenge since arriving at Clemson, as the Tigers will lose seven starters off the defense.
While that may be scary for some coaches, for Venables preparing players to take the next step in their careers is something that they encourage at Clemson.
“Everybody -- all of them will tell you they have aspirations and goals and dreams to play beyond Clemson, but I don't think those goals have been put in front of the goals to play well for Clemson and for each other and for that football family,” Venables said. “We don't take that lightly. We try to nourish that.”
Even though many people around the country will try to use the defense as a reason to write the Tigers off next season, Venables is welcoming the challenge of starting over again because that is what he is paid to do.
“I know that everybody is going to say the defense is going to be lost next year because of the guys we are losing—and we are losing some of the best players I have ever coached,” Venables said. “but we have a bunch of hungry, talented guys that have waited their turn and now they will get the opportunity.
“This is the reason that we recruit. We don’t take a year or two off just because we have starters at certain positions. We go out and bust our butt on the recruiting trail, so that when years like this happen we are ready for it and our guys have prepared for it.”