It’s no secret that Alabama has had some of the deepest and most disruptive defensive lines in college football recently, and 2015 may be the best of them all. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Monday he uses Alabama as a template when developing his own defensive line.
Clemson’s defensive line has emerged as one of the most productive units in both the ACC and the country during the Tigers’ unblemished, 14-0 season. Clemson is ranked sixth in the country in total defense, and the defensive line is a big reason why. Swinney said during Monday’s media teleconference leading up to the College Football Playoff championship, that he’s tried to take after Alabama in terms of how he builds a defense around talented defensive linemen.
“We’ve built this team in the trenches, and most great teams, that’s where it starts. You’ve got to be able to control the line of scrimmage and have some type of running game and stopping the run, and certainly that’s been what Alabama has been for a long time.” Swinney said.
“We’ve tried to do that here. We’ve tried to go the best we can and getting those guys to help us be dominant up front, and we’ve done a good job of that.”
Standout defensive end Shaq Lawson, who Swinney stated will return to practice on Monday, is the leader of the unit. Lawson has 10.5 sacks on the season, including an early one in the Orange Bowl semifinal on Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. The line also includes redshirt junior Kevin Dodd on the end opposite Lawson, and defensive tackles Carlos Watkins and D.J. Reader.
Behind the starters — quite opposite from Alabama’s extensive depth — Clemson’s backups consist of mostly young guys, including freshmen Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant. Swinney had high praise for Bryant, who played the majority of the contest against Oklahoma due to Lawson’s absence. Swinney added that the Tigers lost six seniors on the defensive line a year ago, which hurt the depth at the position.
“We don’t have the experience that they have this year. Our first-line guys I think are really, really good, but our depth is really young. They’re growing up. Austin Bryant went in and played the whole game the other night when Shaq got hurt and played great as a true freshman. Swinney said. “They [Alabama] look a lot like we looked last year in that defensive line as far as the experience and the depth that they have up front.”
Alabama’s defensive line will face one of the more balanced offenses in the country this week, with the Tigers’ No. 11 ranked total offense. Alabama boasts the nation’s top run defense, but that’s only one element of Clemson’s offensive attack. Tigers quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson is more than capable of putting points on the board in the passing game, should Alabama shut down Clemson’s rushing attack.