Clemson defense playing smarter

Clemson defense playing smarter

Football

Clemson defense playing smarter

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By William Qualkinbush.

By William Qualkinbush

Brent Venables is a passionate, fiery football coach. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and is consumed by a desire to win every play in every game on defense.

But beneath that red-faced façade, Clemson’s defensive coordinator is also a cerebral football coach who possesses an appreciation for the intellectual side of the game. He places greater value in intelligence than in physical attributes because his goal is to have each piece of his defense in place on every snap.

“You want a clean football game,” Venables said. “You want to not make mistakes. That’s the biggest thing, as well as playing tough and playing physical.”

On Saturday, Venables’ defense had a performance that might seem questionable with a glance at the stat sheet. The Tigers allowed 35 points and 545 yards to Georgia in a three-point win in which the Bulldogs averaged 7.8 yards per play.

But a closer look reveals some positives not readily apparent on the surface. After surrendering three touchdowns on its first four possessions, the Tigers allowed the Bulldogs just one score in the next ten drives and forced two turnovers along the way.

Venables credits his unit’s resurgent effort in the middle part of the game against Georgia—who led the nation in yards per play last season—to advancements in its football IQ.

“It’s a group that has a strong understanding of what we want,” he said. “It’s a group of guys that has invested heavily in understanding just football. Whether it’s philosophy or situation, our total overall awareness has definitely improved.”

Venables complimented his team’s gap discipline and fundamental pursuit as strengths of the opening weekend’s performance. It was a far cry from last season, when Venables says the Clemson defense did some things that drove him crazy all season long.

“The zone play, a year ago, was like a trick play,” he said, half-jokingly but also with a tone of sober appreciation for how far his unit has come since then.

One major indicator of a smart defensive team is the ability to minimize miscues due to a full understanding of scheme and system. Venables thinks his team has it. He identified several examples of plays in which his players don’t just run to spots anymore, but they can understand where the defense is weakest and focus on how to best protect the soft spots.

“As a coaching staff, you feel like they get it,” he said. “They understand now not only what calls mean and what they’re good for, but also what the stresses of it are. When you understand what the stresses are, you have your guard up all the time for those situations.”

On Saturday, Venables credits his players for not allowing Georgia to attack his defense vertically. He says the Bulldogs tried to take shots but were unable to do it because his players played good assignment football.

“We had pressure up front and our guys were in great position behind,” Venables said. “We had a couple of those sacks that were coverage sacks because our guys were in great position.”

Venables is never satisfied, but he says the Clemson defense pleased him on Saturday. Even given the questions that exist at key spots, the Tigers rose to the challenge and made enough plays to defeat a top-five opponent in the Bulldogs.

Venables credits intelligence for improvement. He seems to have developed Clemson’s defense into a more disciplined unit this season, which is proof enough that he is a pretty smart man in his own right.

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