Clemson’s defense played in Auburn’s backfield — or their backyard, as Clemson’s coaching staff likes to say — a lot on Saturday.
Clemson recorded three sacks and 14 tackles for loss — more than Clemson had at any point last season — against a stout Auburn offensive line that allowed only 19 sacks all of last year.
“Nobody wants to play in your own backyard, you always want to play in the neighbor’s backyard,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said on Tuesday. “When you are, it’s a lot more fun. That’s kind of (defensive tackles coach) Dan Brooks’ way to sell it to his guys — jump the fence and go play in their backyard.”
The pressure Clemson’s young defensive line and linebackers put on Auburn led Venables to say the defense’s performance on Saturday was not normal.
After watching the film, Venables also saw an unusual level of consistent execution and discipline from the six first-year starters.
“I thought there was a lot of precise execution,” Venables said. “Disciplined for a good part of the game. … Really pleased with our effort and overall execution, just how hard they played and how hard they competed.
“For a lot of guys, that was their first start, and they played disciplined. That’s not normal for first-time starters, typically, to be as consistent as they were.”
Had Clemson not won the battle in the trenches defensively, the outcome of the game could have been different. Clemson’s defensive line helped Clemson clamp down on several Auburn scoring threats near the goal line.
Venables credited Brooks and defensive ends coach Marion Hobby for their coaching and providing their position groups with the knowledge and tools to be successful.
“I think that Marion and Dan Brooks have done an incredible job helping those guys grow up quickly,” Venables said. “It takes the players’ work, their understanding, their willingness to be coached, and it takes the coaches that functionally can give them tools to play fast and confident.”
That coaching will be just as important this week heading into Clemson’s game against Troy as it was against Auburn.
Clemson isn’t facing another SEC opponent, but Venables and his staff have made it clear that they’re facing another tough challenge.
Venables is very familiar with Troy second-year head coach Neal Brown. As the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech from 2010-14, Brown opposed Venables while he was the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma until Venables left for Clemson in 2011.
Under Brown, Texas Tech’s offense ranked in the nation’s top 25 in total offense, passing offense and scoring offense each year, with the exception of scoring in 2014.
While Clemson played well at Auburn, Venables has sent the message to his defense that they can’t take Troy lightly this Saturday.
“We’ve got to have an incredible sense of urgency,” Venables said. “Young players with a lack of experience, sometimes they can start feeling good about themselves and put their guard down. That’s very normal, and our job as coaches is to try to get them into reality.
“That’s your biggest fear, more than anything. SEC is a very good conference with good coaches and good players. But Troy has good coaches and good players, too.”