Clemson University

Defense shines for Tigers

CLEMSON -- On the eve of Saturday's scrimmage, coach Tommy Bowden joked he would defer the opening kickoff of Clemson's first game because he planned on it being Florida State's only kickoff.

"Tell that to Vic," Bowden said, referring to defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.

Koenning's eyebrows shot skyward when informed of Bowden's comments Saturday, but only after his first-string unit had raised others' eyebrows.

Observers declared Clemson's starting defense the clear winner in Saturday's scrimmage, for what that is and is not worth.

Schemes, play-calling and personnel switches are frequently manipulated to give one side an upper hand.

But this much was deduced in the Tigers' second fall scrimmage: the first-team defense stuffed the running game, did not allow a passing touchdown and made the starting offensive line look bad in general.

"I'm finding out our defense could be pretty good," Bowden said. "They run real good and you can't bounce anything outside."

Talk of flying to the ball and greater aggression is a right of offseason passage for every defense.

Nevertheless, Saturday's performance was validation for a group that came apart at the seams at the end of last season.

Tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller, who usually post low numbers anyhow in these scrimmages, amassed 18 yards on nine carries.

Junior defensive end Phillip Merling had two sacks, while senior weakside linebacker Nick Watkins intercepted a Cullen Harper pass.

"There is a fire in our defense right now," sophomore middle linebacker Cortney Vincent said. "Everybody is running wide open. I've never seen anything like this from us.

"We're playing a different style now. We're not going to turn it on and turn it off anymore."