CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson's high-powered offense steals most of the headlines, and rightly so what with playmakers such as Tajh Boyd at quarterback, Sammy Watkins at receiver and Roderick McDowell at running back. But the Tigers' defense is serving notice that it shouldn't be overlooked in its second season under defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Clemson's defense has exhibited continued improvement, and that should be the case once again this week as the No. 3 Tigers (3-0) return home to face Wake Forest (2-2).
"It's like basketball," coach Dabo Swinney said. "The ball's not always going to go in the bucket for you, but if you play great defense, sooner or later you're going to win. I'm really proud of our defense. We're much better than we were after three games last year, and they're hungry. The coaches are doing a tremendous job and we have more knowledge and are healthier than we've been in a long time."
Clemson has shown particularly improvement in pressuring the quarterback and rank fourth nationally at 4.0 sacks per game and fifth nationally in tackles for loss per game. The Tigers also are 17th nationally in first down defense, eighth in turnover margin and fourth in kickoff return defense.
While the defense is making a name for itself, the past few days have been trying for the program.
First, linebacker Kellen Jones was lost for the season after tearing an ACL at N.C. State. Then offensive tackle Isaiah Battle was suspended for this week's game after punching an N.C. State player late in the Tigers' 26-14 victory.
The turmoil continued last weekend when defensive tackle Carlos Watkins was involved in an accident near his home in Forest City, N.C., that claimed the life of a cousin.
Watkins was pinned inside the vehicle for more than an hour-and-a-half before he could be rescued. He was hospitalized but amazingly suffered no broken bones or other major injuries and could return to action as soon as the Wake Forest game.
Finally, on Tuesday, Swinney announced that starting receiver Martavis Bryant would have his playing time reduced as a "team discipline" for making a slashing gesture after scoring a touchdown against N.C. State.
"He has to continue to grow up," Swinney said of the junior, who is the Tigers' second-leading receiver this season with 10 catches for 160 yards. "It's just unacceptable behavior. I wish I had seen it (during the game). I with the refs had seen it and thrown a flag because the best punishment is immediate. Everybody missed it, but TV sure didn't miss it."
Notes: DT Carlos Watkins is questionable for the Wake Forest game after being involved in an auto accident on Sept. 21. ... OT Isaiah Battle is out while serving a suspension for punching an N.C. State player during last week's game. ... LB Kellen Jones is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL at N.C. State. ... DB MacKensie Alexander continues to be sidelined by a groin injury and will not play vs. Wake Forest. ... LB B.J. Goodson is questionable for the Wake Forest game with a concussion. ... OT Giff Timothy is questionable with a concussion.