By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
Biggest difference between playing Georgia Tech and paying federal income tax is that one’s a moving target.
Both can sting, but taxes are paid by the same date every year.
So it is that Clemson again encounters Georgia Tech at a most inopportune juncture of the football schedule. One week after a reasonably efficient quarter at Boston College, the defense prepares for a team unlike any other it will see.
This was the first team Dabo Swinney faced as head coach, mid-year with a quarterback in his first and only start and a team divided. In five games, including the 2009 ACC Championship game in which neither team punted, he has won once.
It’s seldom convenient. One year it might be the second game on the schedule as it was in 2009, a week after Middle Tennessee, allowing Clemson inordinate time during preseason to plan for the aberration on the schedule except they didn’t aberrate for the occasional trick play. The 2010 game might have been their finest hour smack in the middle of a forgettable season. But last year they were cocky at 8-0 and couldn’t recover after falling behind by three touchdowns in the first half.
There was always a sense Kevin Steele hated preparing for Georgia Tech because he had to go off script for a week. That it offended him planning for a team whose head coach hadn’t enough respect for his opponents to watch film on them.
Frequently when Steele assessed the progress of his defense against the run, he would conveniently discount the rushing numbers accrued by Georgia Tech. In politics that’s called “spin doctoring.” You couldn’t blame Steele for trying to play a shell game with the statistics, though nobody really lost sight of the fact that for three seasons Clemson typically struggled to stop any offense with a run capable quarterback.
Suffice it to say, a game against the Tech option can skew anybody’s run defense numbers.
Venables inherited a relatively inexperienced group and progress has been slow the first five games. A couple of big stops in the fourth quarter at Boston College were mildly encouraging. “I think we’ve made significant improvement in the second half at Boston,” Swinney said this week. “We still got a ways to go.
“We won one-on-one matchups. We were much more active up front. We defeated blocks. We played more confidently (and) outside a couple of guys we tackled better. If we’ll continue to stay on the track I think we have a chance to be a good defense.”
In the same breath, Swinney warned in so many words that this could be one step forward and two back unless Venables can keep them on script.
“It’s a whole different animal as opposed to guys running the zone, running power schemes, power sweeps,” he said. “Still, everybody has a job to do.
“Everybody still has to be accountable. You have less room for error when you’re playing an option football team.”
Back in August, you had the sense that Swinney figured there might be more answers by now but Venables stepped lightly. Success wouldn’t hang on the production of two or three great players because Venables didn’t see even one through the haze of summer. This week Venables talked about the need to develop playmakers, which might be a hint of progress, but Georgia Tech can be a harbinger of one step forward, two back.
“Most of these guys that are out there on our defense haven’t played against these guys. If they played it was minimal,” Swinney said. “Simulating in practice what you see with Georgia Tech is a very hard thing to do, especially in three days to go do it.
“I don’t think it’s taxing mentally,” he said. “It’s just physically doing it, staying on your feet, defeating blocks, finishing tackles and being disciplined.”
Which is what defense is always about, especially when it’s inconvenient.