CLEMSON - How do you explain it?
How does a college football defense go from No. 101 in the country in
turnover margin in 2001 to a plus-5 in that category through two games in
2002? How does an inept secondary become a unit to be feared?
Why is Clemson's defense playing with a confidence, almost a swagger,
reminiscent of the glory teams of year's past?
New coordinator? New players? More maturity?
Head coach Tommy Bowden thinks it's might be all three.
"(Defensive coordinator) John (Lovett) has a different philosophy," Bowden
said. "With a new coach on staff some players get a new lease on life, and
there's an enthusiasm to impress the new guy. So I think it's a combination
"John had a proven track record at Auburn. He's been successful scheme-wise,
and the players have responded to him well."
Through two games Clemson's defense has forced seven turnovers, while the
offense had had but two. The Tigers' picked off Louisiana Tech quarterback
Luke McCown three times in last Saturday's 33-13 win at Death Valley, and in
reality could have had at least three more had defenders not dropped balls.
As the defensive line began to get more and more pressure on McCown, the
secondary was able to be more aggressive. And Lovett's ever-changing looks
and coverages confused McCown to the point where defensive lineman Mo
Fountain - dropping off the line in coverage - batted down one pass and
Even the questionable pass interference calls that went against Clemson could
almost be excused, considering there were many occasions last season in which
a defender wasn't close enough to a receiver to interfere.
And the best part? The Tigers are getting contributions from all over.
"Our biggest concern after the Georgia game was (so many) guys playing too
many snaps," Bowden said. "But (Saturday) we got help from some other guys.
Fountain went in and had one interception and almost another, Justin Miller
had an interception, (Todd) McClinton and (Eric) Coleman making plays...
"We have some talented guys at backup positions. Now they have to see
themselves as starters when they go in the game and make plays."
The question now is simple:
Can the defense keep up the pace, getting better and better each week?
Saturday's game with visiting Georgia Tech will be a good barometer.
All three of the Bowden-era games with the Yellow Jackets have been
shootouts, Tech winning two of the three by a combined score of 120-117. The
high-scoring, tightly contested affairs are a continuation of recent history:
The last six games between the teams have been decided by exactly three
"I can't explain it," Bowden said. "They don't score that many points against
every opponent, and we don't score that many against every opponent. It's a
good television game and a good game for the fans, but it's a nightmare for
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 10 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.