COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — After watching Clemson's offense make a major leap forward last year, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney hopes it's the defense's turn to improve this fall.
He saw plenty of hopeful signs Saturday night in No. 14 Clemson's 26-19 victory over Auburn at the Georgia Dome.
There were plenty of mistakes Swinney and first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables will highlight on tape before moving forward. But they also won't be able to ignore how a group that gave up 28 points or more in seven of its' final eight games last year forced Auburn to settle for field goals over touchdowns.
"We kind of settled in and really played clean in the fourth quarter," Swinney said Sunday. "That was good to see."
Especially after some of the showings Clemson's defense closed with a year ago. The unit was torched for 37 and 34 points in losses to North Carolina State and South Carolina. The capper was the disastrous 70-33 defeat to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl that left some at Clemson feeling less like Atlantic Coast Conference champions and more like beaten down dogs.
Enter Venables, the longtime Oklahoma defensive coordinator brought on to do what offensive leader Chad Morris did for Clemson's offense a year ago.
The Tigers came last fall as a team that struggled to score, producing two touchdowns or less in four of its final regular season games in 2010. Under Morris' super-charged schemes last season, Clemson set school records with 6,171 yards and 470 points.
It's only a one-game sample size, but indicators are already pointing up for Venables and the defense. Clemson ran past Auburn in 2011 for a 38-24 win. This time, Clemson held the Tigers to fewer yards (374 to 435) and points than a year ago.
"There's a lot of room for improvement. We've got to be a lot more consistent," Venables said after the game. "We can't give up big plays and leave guys uncovered. But we knew it wasn't going to be easy, either."
Swinney said last week called Venables "a caged animal" who was ready to see his guys in live action. Venables didn't like much of what he saw early on.