GREENSBORO, Ga. -- Senior safety Michael Hamlin labeled it the longest play of his career -- and the defining play of Clemson's defense.
With that, Hamlin animatedly described the improvisational scramble that concluded with Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan heaving the late, game-winning touchdown to keep the Tigers out of the ACC title game for yet another year.
The thought stirred memories of Maryland's go-ahead drive in 2006, which also proved to be the dagger for the Tigers as well.
"We're known for giving up one long drive, and it always comes back to hurt us in the end," Hamlin said. "It's never a short drive, either. If we can stop those, we're in it."
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If they stopped those, Clemson's defense might be generating the same hype reserved for its offensive standouts.
The annual ACC Football Kickoff began Sunday at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga., and attending media voters are expected to have voted Clemson as the favorite -- by a wide margin -- to win the conference championship when results are released today.
While as many as three of the team's skill position stars could garner player of the year votes, the Tigers' defense could land just one defensive player (Hamlin) on the All-ACC defense Wednesday despite owning a comparable resume to their counterparts.
Clemson returns seven starters from a unit ranked ninth in yardage allowed, 10th in scoring and never permitted an opposing ACC offense to score more than two touchdowns in a contest.
"When you think about it, all you read about are the guys on offense," quarterback Cullen Harper said. "I really feel like our secondary is going to be the best one I face all season. And we're going to be good up front. Those guys can make plays."
Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford, Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon and Georgia Tech offensive tackle Andrew Gardner each said the Tigers were at least in a tie for the title of toughest defense in the league.
"(Virginia Tech) has just been playing strong defense for more years than Clemson has, so they have the reputation," Gardner said.
Which should merely give the Tigers additional motivation, Hamlin said.
In addition to Hamlin, senior defensive tackle Dorell Scott, junior end Ricky Sapp and senior safety Chris Clemons are all on the radar as an early-round pick in next year's NFL Draft.
Yet Hamlin believes Clemson's defense lacks name recognition for several reasons.
The unit did not generate many turnovers or any scores last year, therefore minimizing their chances of appearing on television highlights. Furthermore, coordinator Vic Koenning gets results without using a sexy style such as heavy blitzing or man-to-man pass defense.
Hamlin said he thinks those trends could change this season because of Clemson's wealth of defensive experience.
Koenning incorporated more man coverages in the spring, and all of the reserve safeties are being cross-trained at strongside linebacker this summer - both signs, Hamlin said, that the Tigers could feature a more aggressive approach.
"I know a lot of people overlook us," Hamlin said. "But I like being the underdog."
If being the defense for the ACC favorites can qualify as an underdog role.
"A lot of people feel like we're going to do like last year, make a run and then slip up," Hamlin said. "This year doesn't feel the same. We have too many weapons."