CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson defensive end Corey Crawford knows the Tigers defense can complete a major, two-year turnaround few could have foreseen the last time they played in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson's defense was exposed after the 2011 season, unable to halt a relentless West Virginia attack in a 70-33 beatdown at the Orange Bowl. The points were a college football postseason record and led to endless string one-liners at Clemson's expense.
The 12th-ranked Tigers (10-2) hope for a different, more successful showing this time around when they play No. 7 Ohio State (12-1) in the Orange Bowl next Friday.
While the jokes hurt, more devastating, Crawford recalled, was the emptiness on campus upon their return home. Crawford found many of the students were embarrassed and disappointed at the awful showing that night.
"I don't want that to happen again," Crawford said Friday. "Every time we lose, the campus is just dead. People don't want to talk to you."
Crawford believes he and his defensive teammates have worked the past two years to correct their mistakes and remake themselves into a defense that brings the school pride. The group led the nation this year in tackles for loss and finished the regular season ranked 17th in scoring defense (21.1 points per game), up from 48th a year ago. The Tigers have improved from 63rd in overall defense in 2012 to 23rd this season, surrendering almost 50 fewer yards a game in 2013.
Crawford understands a strong showing against the Buckeyes might go a long way toward putting the West Virginia debacle to bed once and for all.
"I feel like our fans deserve that," he said.
Not the change back to the top on defense has come easily.
Clemson had a well-earned reputation the past few decades as one of the most consistent and stingiest defenses in college football. Coach Danny Ford build his 1981 national champions on the backs of players like linebacker Jeff Davis and defensive end William "Refrigerator" Perry. Clemson send a host of standout defenders to the NFL after that, including Terry Kinard, Donnell Woolford, Michael Dean Perry, Ed McDaniel and Levon Kirkland.