CLEMSON - Looking at Clemson's defensive limitations during the preseason, the coaching staff decided on a softer, less aggressive style in hopes of eliminating the big plays which haunted the Tigers last season.
But through the first six games results failed to meet the expectations of defensive coordinator Reggie Herring or head coach Tommy Bowden. Clemson's defense, plagued by injuries and inexperience, gave up an average of 36 points in four Atlantic Coast Conference games, 119 total in its last three.
It's ironic, then, that the very week Herring chose to go back to a pressure-style defense the results originally hoped for came to fruition.
Clemson allowed 344 total yards to Wake Forest Saturday, but only two scores in a 21-14 victory.
"I thought it was bend, but not break. We actually played them pretty good," Bowden said Sunday. "I was really pleased. We got three turnovers, which not only ignites them but ignites (the offense). It creates momentum changes when you do that."
Senior safety Charles Hafley made the game's biggest play, intercepting Wake Forest quarterback James MacPherson in the endzone with 2:09 to go. The pick choked off a potential Demon Deacons' tying touchdown, and allowed Clemson to run out the clock.
But several young players contributed, as well, most notably linebacker Eric Sampson. Filling in for the injured John Leake, Sampson finished with six tackles (three solo, three assists) and seemed to provide the defense with an energy boost.
"I haven't watched all the film yet, but I do have their grades," Bowden said. "Sampson played well, Leroy Hill, Donnell Washington...a lot of the young guys contributed."
Not all of the youngsters pleased Bowden, however. Redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Hemby had a tough day in place of sophomore Kevin Johnson, and Bowden intimated a change was coming.
"He got beat twice, and that's enough," Bowden said. "He's a redshirt freshman, but he's played six games now. That's two times in a row, and the second time is enough."
- Leake's injury was diagnosed as a sprained ankle, and he is listed as questionable for this Saturday's game with Florida State.
Tight end Ben Hall (strained neck) also is questionable, while wide receiver Airese Currie (sprained foot) is probable.
- Bowden said the hit which injured Leake was borderline "and very easily could have been ruled legal," which it was.
Leake was taken out on what appeared to be a clip from behind while pursuing a Wake Forest running back during the Tigers' first defensive series. He spent the rest of the game in street clothes and on crutches.
- Senior linebacker Chad Carson had 23 tackles - 15 first hits and 8 assists - according to the coaches' film, the third highest single game total in Clemson history. Keith Adams had 27 against South Carolina in 1999, while Jeff Davis had 24 against North Carolina in 1980.