CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson's Vic Beasley is a lean 235 pounds and looks lost in the trenches amid the 300-pounders.
Then the junior defensive end goes to his patented "Dip-n-Rip" move and everything changes. He ducks his shoulders and uses his long arms to move the lineman out of the way as he heads to the backfield — it often ends in a Beasley sack.
The converted tight end leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with five sacks, fifth-best in the nation, continuing the passing-rushing tear he's been on since last year. He was Clemson's breakout defensive star last year, leading the team with eight sacks in a part-time role. Earning a full-time spot this season, Beasley has been a big part of Clemson's improved defense.
"I believe my mindset has changed," Beasley said. "I knew the coaches were expecting a lot from me this season. I showed up, had a good spring, a good offseason and a good camp."
Beasley looks like he could be on the road to a special season, one he hopes to continue Saturday when the Tigers (3-0, 1-0 ACC) take on Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1).
He had the game-changing play in last week's 26-14 victory at North Carolina State. He sacked quarterback Pete Thomas, forcing a fumble in the third quarter to give Clemson possession just three plays after the Wolfpack appeared to have scored the go-ahead touchdown by Byran Underwood. Instead, officials ruled Underwood had stepped out of bounds.
Clemson scored a touchdown moments later and North Carolina State couldn't rally.
Beasley's defensive teammates told him it was time to make a play and keep the Wolfpack off the scoreboard.
"They just wanted me to make a big play, they knew we needed a turnover," he said. "I was able to get back there and get the job done."
The Wolfpack weren't the only ones who didn't see Beasley coming.
Some wondered where Beasley would fit in when he arrived at Clemson before the 2010 season. Even he wasn't sure where he'd wind up with the Tigers. Beasley was a skinny linebacker, tight end and running back at Adairsville High School in Georgia. He had speed, but little heft necessary to play in the trenches.
Defensive line coach Marion Hobby used Beasley as Clemson's situational sack man a year ago, the sophomore collecting his eight sacks despite averaging less than 25 snaps a game.
For Beasley to play more, he had to bulk up without losing speed. He added about 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and has his sights set on the school mark of 16 sacks set by ex-linebacker Keith Adams in 1999.
"If there's a record, I'm trying to break it," he said. "Whatever the record is, I am going for it."
Using his go-to "Dip-n-Rip" move.
"Last year, I used a lot of my quickness and not a lot of straight speed power," he said. "This year, I've put on a little weight and gotten stronger and tied that into my pass rush."
Hobby said the light came on for Beasley last year and he's worked to keep it burning even brighter. That looks true of Clemson's defense, too, this season, which has gone from an embarrassment — remember the 70-33 Orange Bowl blowout loss to West Virginia two seasons ago? — to a source of pride so far for the Tigers.
Beasley shared ACC defensive lineman of the week with Wake Forest nose tackle Nikita Whitlock while Clemson's Stephone Anthony was linebacker of the week.
"Obviously, we've made a lot of strides in a lot of areas. Still got a long ways to go," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "But I love the attitude of the group of guys, their willingness to fight and handle adversity well."
Wake Forest has lost four straight to Clemson and has not won in Death Valley since 1998 before Jim Grobe became the Demon Deacons coach. Grobe says the challenge to break that streak is immense with an improved defense backing up a high-paced offense. "They're as talented as possibly any team in the country and very well coached," Grobe said. "It will take a great effort on our part."
Especially with Beasley playing himself into one of the nation's top defensive ends.
"I've had a lot of frustration and a lot of doubt" about finding a place at Clemson, Beasley said. "Thank God, I found a place and I love where I'm at."