The Clemson secondary has been a much-discussed unit throughout the 2018-19 season.
The talk started in the spring when Brent Venables declared, “I don’t feel great about our depth there at all.”
And it continued after the Tigers allowed 333 passing yards and three touchdowns in the second half at Texas A&M. There have been plenty of high moments, including shutting down N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley for four quarters. And some low ones as well, most notably allowing South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley to pass for 510 yards and five touchdowns.
But through it all the group has been unequivocally confident.
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“Like I said earlier in the year, (if) they feel like our secondary is the weakness, continue to try us,” safety K’Von Wallace said leading up to the College Football Playoff. “Like I said before the season started and I’m going to continue to say it – this is the best defense in the country.”
Clemson will certainly have an opportunity to prove just how good its defense and its secondary is Monday night in the national championship game against Alabama.
The Crimson Tide are No. 4 in total offense (528 yards per game) and No. 2 in scoring offense (48 ppg). Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa leads the nation in passing efficiency.
“It’s probably going to be the hardest challenge all year. They’re definitely better than Texas A&M, definitely better than South Carolina,” Wallace said. “So we’ve gotta go out there and compete and just have fun. That’s all there is to it. Be confident. They’re not going to overwhelm us so just go out there and compete and have fun.”
Clemson believes that it is just a coincidence that its two worst secondary performances this season came against SEC teams and it does not feel that the mistakes mean the Tigers will struggle against Alabama.
“I didn’t even notice that until you said that. That’s true though. We did so called struggle versus Texas A&M and South Carolina,” Wallace said. “But at the end of the day the No. 1 objective is to win. No matter how many yards they have or how much stats they have, we did enough to win. We didn’t go out there and just lose the game for us. So that’s all I have to say about that.”
The Tigers allowed 430 passing yards and three touchdowns against Texas A&M and 510 passing yards and five touchdowns against South Carolina. But Notre Dame has a better passing offense than both the Aggies and the Gamecocks, and Clemson held Notre Dame to 160 passing yards and no touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl.
“I know what our secondary is about. I know what we’re about. We only had two games where we didn’t play up to our standard. That’s not who we are as a secondary. We’re ready to show people who we are,” cornerback Trayvon Mullen said. “Everybody said we was the weakest link of our defense. But I feel like we proved them wrong against Notre Dame. They had three points on the board so that says it all.”
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney believes all of the talk about Clemson’s much maligned secondary is overblown.
“Our secondary has been reading for three weeks how terrible they are. I mean, Good Lord, we have one sub-par game that you win by three touchdowns and all of a sudden our secondary is terrible,” Swinney said following the Notre Dame victory. “I thought they were ready, played well. They took ownership of the plan. We lined up properly, corrected some of the mistakes that we had earlier in the year.”