Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was not surprised by the way his defense shut down Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense in Thursday’s 26-7 victory in Atlanta, despite just having four days to prepare.
He liked the way his team retained what was taught to them during fall camp, when they took three days to study the Yellow Jackets’ offense.
That retention showed up at Bobby Dodd Stadium as the third-ranked Tigers had one of the best performances a Clemson defense has had in recent memory. Clemson held the Rambling Wreck to 124 total yards, including just 95 on the ground.
“I think the maturity of our group on defense really showed up tonight because I think they really valued the reps that they did get,” Venables said after the game. “They knew, ‘Are you kidding me? We have to play these guys on a short week.’
“The retention was there. They took great notes and were able to plug back in. We had a great week of practice. We rep at rapid-fire pace all week and probably had 110 to 115 snaps a day with the scout team to try and make up for that day that we missed. I think that showed a little bit.”
It showed right from the start as defensive lineman Christian Wilkins tackled Tech quarterback Justin Thomas four yards behind the line of scrimmage on the Yellow Jackets’ first offensive possession. From there, the Jackets had just 22 total yards in the first half and the running game was non-existent.
Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-1 ACC) could not throw the ball either. Thomas completed just 4 of 13 passes for 29 yards. The Tigers even intercepted a pass on a trick play when safety Van Smith picked off Dedrick Mills halfback pass in the fourth quarter.
“I’m really impressed with our guys up front. The secondary really impressed me, too,” Venables said. “The physicality, the alignments and the reads … We were not perfect, and I’m not sitting here beating our chest, but they put on a great performance on the back end and really helped set the edge.
“They made some really good plays with the ball in the air.”
The Tigers (4-0, 1-0 ACC) made it look easy against the Yellow Jackets as they made Paul Johnson’s offense look basic. The 124 total yards were the lowest total for a Johnson offense in a game at Georgia Tech. But when a defense makes it look as easy to defend as Clemson did on Thursday night then it tells you how much the Tigers dominated on that side of the ball.
“That is a very stressful offense to defend with their ability to run the football, and with the play-action passes with a variety of formations, who is eligible, who is not. There is just a lot there. It looks basic maybe on the outside looking in, I don’t know, but it really isn’t,” Venables said. “It’s a lot of procession that needs to take place with all eleven. The guys up front, ultimately, if you are not disruptive there, (Tech) can have their way with you. I thought our guys, with Christian on the first play, kind of set that tone for the night.”
Georgia Tech finished the game just 2-of-12 on first down, and had just 11 first downs. The Yellow Jackets spent much of the night in third-and-long situations.
“I’m real proud of guys, and our scout team guys and our coaches,” Venables said. “We are 4-0 and we won one ACC game.”
And after such a great effort, the Tigers get a break. They only have to get ready for Lamar Jackson and fourth-ranked Louisville. That should not be too hard, right?