Clemson defense steps up when needed

Clemson defense steps up when needed

Football

Clemson defense steps up when needed

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By Will Vandervort.

By Will Vandervort

CLEMSON — Brent Venables said what everyone who was wearing orange inside Memorial Stadium Saturday was thinking following No. 15 Clemson’s 47-31 victory over Georgia Tech.

“I’m so glad that game is done,” Clemson’s defensive coordinator said. “What a pain in the butt. I felt like I played every play today.”

As expected, the Yellow Jackets triple-option was once again a pain in the rear end for Clemson. They rushed for 339 yards on 46 attempts and at times were controlling the tempo. But whenever the Tigers needed someone to make a play in a critical moment to help get a stop, they most always came through.

“They really, really responded in a big-time way,” Venables said. “They had some huge plays there in the second half. That, one, has me excited about them, and two, those were steps and growth.”

They were steps that put Clemson (5-1, 2-1 ACC) in position to win the game. One step even put points on the scoreboard and changed the course of the contest.

Following a fumbled kickoff, Georgia Tech faced a second down-and-10 from its own two, while trailing 38-31 with a little more than 10 minutes remaining. In his previous six carries, Tech running back Orwin Smith netted 122 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown and a 38-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter.

So it was a no brainer for Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson to think a running a sweep play to the left side of the field to the talented running back was probably going to pick up positive yards. There was no reason not to. The Yellow Jackets ran that same play for a touchdown against the Tigers last season.

But practice makes perfect. Remembering what he was taught in practice all week long, reserve middle linebacker Spencer Shuey recognized the formation and then used proper technique and form to make sure Smith was not going to get out of the end zone.

“They ran the same play,” the junior said. “We have been preparing for that play all week, and once I saw the kickoff team pin them down there on the (two), I knew there was a pretty good chance they were going to run that play.

“It was a good read and I got a good jump on the ball and I was able to make the play.”

The play gave Clemson a 40-31 lead with 10:19 to play. It also gave the defense the confidence it need to shut down the Yellow Jackets the rest of the game.

“Spencer just made a great play,” Venables said. “He was exactly where he was supposed to be. He trusted everybody inside of him. That was a great read and great positioning. He got the guy down.

“What a big play in the game. I’m so happy for all of those guys. That shows even when you are on the twos and threes you have to stay ready. Sometimes that window of opportunity takes a long time to come and does not come real often but you have to be ready to seize the moment. What a great learning tool that will be for everybody.”

After kicking a field goal to take a 31-30 lead with 13:03 to play in the game, Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3) netted minus 14 yards rushing and totaled 31 yards overall the rest of the way. One stop came after Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was intercepted at the Georgia Tech 45 on the ensuing possession, but again, the defense rose to challenge and got a stop.

Then defensive tackle Josh Watson blocked David Scully’s 37-yard field goal attempt that could have cut the Clemson lead to six points with 6:16 to play.

“We knew it was going to be difficult,” defensive tackle Josh Watson said. “We were going to win some of the plays in the game. We knew they were going to make plays, too, so how were we going to rally and bounce back and get a stop?”

Though it was pain in the butt, when it mattered most the Clemson defense did just that.

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