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Is Clemson safety Tanner Muse too reckless on the field?

September 22, 2017 GMT

CLEMSON — A flag was thrown in the first quarter of Clemson’s matchup with Kent State in the Tigers’ season opener Sept. 2. Safety Tanner Muse was called for a personal foul.

Another was tossed Saturday in the first quarter of Clemson’s game at Louisville. Muse was called for targeting on reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. He was promptly ejected.

A new starter, filling the void Jadar Johnson left behind at strong safety when he graduated, Muse is perhaps one of Clemson’s grittiest, most aggressive defenders. But his targeting call, one that could have been prevented, has some in the college football sphere wondering if perhaps Muse is not only aggressive, but reckless too.

Wednesday, Muse cleared the air and shed some insight on what happened from his point of view.

“I was trying to tackle him at the chest level and he was going down,” the redshirt sophomore explained. “When I started to approach him, he was in a taller position. I could not stop my momentum at that point. In no way was I trying to hit him in the helmet.”

It is true that Jackson’s body was closer to the ground by the time Muse got there than when he took off to tackle him.

But as Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, Muse’s trip to the locker room for the remainder of the night was certainly an instance that could have been avoided.

“It should have never happened. If Tanner’s reading the right things, he’s probably at the line of scrimmage — if not, maybe even in the backfield,” Venables said. “So he would have been at the ball a lot sooner and would have avoided targeting all together. That being said, we’ve tried taking the head out of tackling as much as we can through our drill work.”

We have a targeting pic.twitter.com/G8ipX58BPt — Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) September 17, 2017

S Tanner Muse (Clemson) expulsé pour ce targeting sur QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville)... https://t.co/gUfWGlBGPY — TBP College Football (@thebluepennant) September 17, 2017

Venables, known for his own intensity and attention to detail, was quick to shut down any notion that Muse is a “dirty” player, as some people on social media have pegged him, and instead used the word “aggressive.”

“Very focused. Very serious and physical. He doesn’t have that dirtiness in him like that. He’s just amped up,” Venables said. “When there’s Lamar Jackson with the ball in front of him — he’s going to tackle him hard.”

After Muse was ejected, his backup, redshirt freshman Isaiah Simmons, was thrust into a new role in his absence. Though Simmons was well prepared when called upon, even leading Clemson in tackles, that Muse put Clemson in that situation in is something he cannot do moving forward. With 12 tackles through 108 snaps and three starts, Clemson will rely on him to rise to the occasion as one of the most important cogs on the defense. As the season progresses, so too, should he — learning to mature with better decision-making skills.

“I don’t think it’s a malicious hit or anything. He did lead with his helmet. But I think more than anything it was just a poor tackle in terms of form,” said Bleacher Report’s lead NFL Draft writer Matt Miller, who was also at the game. “As the rule says, yeah it is targeting, but I don’t think he’s a dirty player or anything like that. When you slow something down (on replay), you have the benefit of being like, ‘Oh he should have led with shoulder.’ But you’re trying to tackle the fastest quarterback in the country and it’s happening in a split second.

“I don’t know Tanner at all. I’ve just seen him play. But I’ve never thought, ‘Oh, No. 19’s dirty’ or anything like that. I wouldn’t go that far.”