Following Clemson’s final stadium scrimmage on Aug. 19, Brent Venables was not a happy man. His defense was pushed around as the Tigers’ offense recorded an 80-yard run from Tavien Feaster, a long screen pass to Feaster, two long runs by C.J. Fuller and a couple of long passes from quarterback Kelly Bryant.
However, what happened that afternoon also has to be taken in context. Venables did limit the playing time of guys like Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant, Dorian O’Daniel, Kendall Joseph and Van Smith so the younger players could get more reps.
Other than that afternoon in Death Valley, the defense owned much of fall camp, as it dominated the first two scrimmages.
“It was a good camp. I feel like we got better,” Venables said. “We are developing a lot of young guys to complement the guys who are returning. I am pleased with the progress we have made sense then. I am looking forward to developing our identity on defense.”
Fifth-ranked Clemson will try to shape some of that identity on Saturday when it hosts Kent State at Clemson Memorial Stadium with a 12:02 p.m. kickoff.
“That will take place throughout the course of the year,” Venables said. “I am just anxious to get a chance to play someone else and see what our guys can do and watch all of their hard work being rewarded.”
With seven starters returning from a unit that ranked No. 8 nationally in total defense and No. 10 in scoring defense in 2016, Venables feels a sense of confidence in his players. This is the first time since the 2014 unit led the country in total defense that the Tigers return more starters than they lost from the previous year.
“Sometimes you hardly have anybody coming back that was a previous starter and you do well,” he said. “You do a lot better than people think you will. Then sometimes you get a lot of starters back and for whatever reason the chemistry isn’t right, the commitment isn’t there, maybe you have some injuries and you don’t meet your expectations, and sometimes you exceed them.
“Every year is just different. Ultimately it’s the people, the leadership, having some good luck, staying healthy, your matchups and then you always have to have some guys coming along.”
Given Venables track record at Clemson, you can count on his defense improving as the course of the season goes along and with the talent the Tigers have, days like Aug. 19 will more than likely be few and far between.