CLEMSON - Whenever Clemson's defense needed a verbal kick in the behind a year ago, or perhaps a joke to lighten the mood, Terry Jolly was always there.
The affable nose guard never met a word he didn't like, and was renowned for his constant chatter. Whether it was talking trash to the opposition or getting on the case of one of his own teammates, Jolly was the unquestioned vocal leader of the Tigers' defense.
This year, with Jolly gone, that role largely went unfilled for three games. Oh sure, there was talking going on, but nothing that would indicate any real sense of verbal leadership on a young unit crying out to be led.
But when Virginia wide receiver Billy McMullen made "The Catch" against Clemson two weeks ago - the one which gave the Cavs a stunning 26-24 win in Death Valley - senior linebacker Chad Carson decided he'd had enough.
Carson, who quietly (literally and figuratively) led the Tigers in tackles last season despite the presence of All-American Keith Adams, came out of character for the Georgia Tech game last Saturday in an attempt to fill that on-field void left by Jolly.
A 47-44 win, and teammates who noticed the difference in Carson.
"You can get upset about mistakes and that type of thing," Carson said. "But I didn't think the attitude was where it needed to be on defense against Virginia. That was the most disappointing thing, because defense here has always been intense, loud and kind of have that feeling about it.
"That always starts in practice with leadership, so I took it to heart and tried to make a difference in practice during the week."
Not that Carson had to change the way he was playing.
After recording a career-high 156 tackles (13 per game) from his middle linebacker spot in 2000, Carson has 37 through four games this season. That production is down slightly due to the emergence of sophomore star safety John Leake, who leads the team with 46 tackles.
But Carson is more than numbers. An academic All-American, Carson is the epitome of the coach-on-the-field cliche. He makes all defensive calls signaled in by the coaching staff, and has developed a knack for finding the football.
Always adjusting to meet his team's needs, Carson's emergence as a vocal leader on the field shouldn't be all that surprising. It's been his habit to do whatever was necessary to help the team.
Especially one as young as Clemson's defense.
"I think the young guys new to this defense needed to see and hear someone being vocal," said Carson. "It's just a little thing I had to change to help out the other guys."
The results might not have been noticiable to the average bystander. After all, Clemson allowed 412 total yards and 44 points to the Yellow Jackets.
But key plays on the final two drives - including stopping running back Joe Burns for no gain on third and one from inside the 10 in overtime - gave the Tigers a positive feeling on which to build.
"We said to each other all week it was going to be different" than the 2000 game, in which Georgia Tech quarterback George Godsey hit Kerry Watkins with a game-winning touchdown pass with :07 to go.
"The guys were saying 'they're not going to get in the endzone, no matter what,'" Carson said. "You've got to be greedy about yards in the Red Zone and hold (teams) to a field goal. And when the game was on the line, we held them to a field goal.
"That's what a defense has to do."
Clemson Career Tackle Leaders
Rk. Player, Pos Years No
1. Bubba Brown, LB 1976-79 515
2. Anthony Simmons, LB 1995-97 486
3. Jeff Davis, LB 1978-81 469
4. Ed McDaniel, LB 1988-91 389
5. Randy Scott, LB 1975-78 382
6. Keith Adams, LB 1998-00 379
7. Robert Carswell, FS 1997-00 374
8. Chad Carson, LB 1998-01 353
9. Tim Jones, LB 1991-94 338
10. Henry Walls, LB 1983-85 316
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger and the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 10 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9.