By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — Brent Venables is an old school football coach.
Clemson’s new defensive coordinator comes from the same school of thought as a guy like Lou Holtz. No matter whom he plays, whether it’s a power-run football team from the Southeastern Conference such as Auburn. Or a spread you out and try to out tempo you like Ball State of the Mid-American Conference will attempt to do in Death Valley on Saturday, Venables approaches each opponent the same way.
“We are getting ready to play the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Venables said earlier this week.” That is how I think. That is how I’m wired. I think it validates it and gives you an argument with your players to get them to buy in.”
Well, the 12th-ranked Tigers are not exactly playing “Big Ben” Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they are playing a Ball State offense that some might argue can rival the kinds of numbers Clemson has been putting up since offensive coordinator Chad Morris came to town in 2011.
In last week’s 37-26 victory over Eastern Michigan, the Cardinals totaled 596 yards, including 329 on the ground, while running 96 plays. Ball State set a school record with 36 first downs.
“They are not just running plays and hoping they work,” Venables said. “They are very precise in what they want to do.”
What Ball State (1-0) wants to do is adjust to whatever the defense is doing. They will of course spread the defense out, and then will adjust accordingly based on personnel and coverage. For example, if Clemson gives a Quarters look – two high safeties – they will switch to something that will give them a matchup advantage.
“If you show Quarters we are going to do this. If you show pressure we are going to do this. If you show two (cover two) then we will do that,” Venables said. “Then they do it with high tempo so it really forces you to be more precise, but it forces them to have to execute too.”
Execution has not been a problem for head coach Pete Lembo’s teams through the years. In the four years prior to coming to Ball State in 2011, Lembo’s Elon teams were one of the best in the Southern Conference. His team’s averaged more than 400 yards per game in all four seasons there.
His first Ball State team put up similar numbers last year and the way in which he did it caught the eye of Venables when he coached against him in Week 4 at Oklahoma.
“In having the experience of playing them a year ago after watching all the Elon tape, and when we played them in Week Four or Week Five, I could see the change in the Ball State football team from the first four or five weeks,” Venables said. “You could tell that they were really well coached and guys know what they are doing.”
Quarterback Keith Wenning knows what he is doing. The junior had an efficiency rating of 118.12 in last week’s Eastern Michigan game, while completing 16 of 41 passes for 267 yards.
Running back Jahwan Edwards also knows what he is doing. The 5-foot-10, 225-pound back rushed for a career-high 200 yards and scored three touchdowns in the season-opener, including one for 75 yards to open the second half.
Wide receiver Jamill Smith is also impressive. Though he is 5-foot-8, he totaled 119 yards on seven catches last week, including one for 42 yards. Then there is the offensive line, which is the most experienced offensive line in the country with more than 120 career starts amongst the five of them.
“They are very good and they are very precise,” Venables said. “They have strong experience and they are incredibly well coached.”
They are also very fast.
“They have speed as in guys that can run, but they also play fast as in tempo,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “They know what they are doing. They get the ball out quick.”
And they can cause problems, which is why Venables is preparing for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday.