After taking a few punches, defense showed real improvement
By Will Vandervort
For three straight possessions Georgia hit Clemson’s defense with a blow to the body, a blow to the body and then an uppercut. And though they were almost taken to the mat early in last week’s 38-35 victory, the fourth-ranked Tigers bunched the Bulldogs right back when it mattered most.
“Our guys stayed on their feet and fought back,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
Clemson, who will host S.C. State at 12:30 p.m. this Saturday in Death Valley, not only fought back, but it actually put the Bulldogs powerful offense on the ropes for a better part of the game. After taking a 21-14 lead with 13:00 to play in the second quarter, Georgia scored on only one of its next nine possessions and totaled only 95 total yards on the eight possessions in which it did not score.
“We were physical. We played with great effort and we could rush the quarterback,” Venables said. “I like our guys up front. They make it, as you continue to build as a defense, a lot easier when you have the kind of depth that we do.”
Those guys up front produced three of the Tigers’ four sacks, intercepted one pass and got in quarterback Aaron Murray’s face all night. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who head coach Dabo Swinney says separated himself from the rest of the pack, led the way, along with guys like DeShawn Williams, Josh Watson and D.J. Reader in the interior of the line.
On the ends, Vic Beasley had two sacks, Tavaris Barnes had one and Corey Crawford intercepted a second quarter pass when Georgia had the ball at the Clemson 30 following a turnover.
The linebackers also played well. Stephone Anthony had a sack and forced a fumble, while Spencer Shuey was all over the field, while recording a career-high 18 tackles.
“I felt at the end of the day, with no disrespect to Georgia, that a lot of the mistakes were self-inflicted, they had a couple of tough runs,” Venables said. “More power to them. They drug us into the end zone on one third-and-goal. You feel like you have to win that, a 320-pounder against a 200-pound back. You have to win that if you are going to be a great defense.”
Georgia finished the game with 11 plays of 15 or more yards and that bothers the heck out of Venables and Swinney. But the good news for Clemson is that those plays were mostly self-inflicted.
On Gurley’s 75-yard touchdown run, Shuey overshot the gap which allowed the Georgia running back to cut it up inside and out run the secondary to the end zone. Clemson also lost backside pursuit a couple of times as well, including on Gurley’s 12-yard scoring run in the third quarter.
The Georgia running back had a 22-yard gain in the fourth quarter after he cut the ball back inside thanks to the same mistake.
“That’s when guys are trying to do too much,” Venables said. “The 75-yarder we were overly aggressive on the front side, but the backside guys are trying to do too much. He has to trust that the front side guys have it corrected and you’re in position for the cutback and we weren’t.”
The Tigers also gave up a couple of passes, though Georgia never got truly behind the Clemson secondary. But Venables said there are still a couple of things they need to clean up.
“They weren’t physical mistakes,” he said. “It wasn’t like guys were turning around and having a hard time finding the ball or had a receiver run right by us… We had a scramble play where Grady Jarrett is going to get a sack and they chip our end and he gets outside. We lost some discipline in our zone coverage and he finds a receiver.
“Instead of the receiver matching him, we run out of our zone and (Murray) did a nice job finding the open receiver. That’s not the first time we are going to see a quarterback that can improvise like that so we have to have better zone integrity in our coverage. Let the guy pull it down and run for three or four yards as opposed to hitting it over the middle for 20 yards. So we will have to work on that.”
The good news is if the Tigers can fix these few mistakes the defense has a chance to be pretty good.
“Despite those mistakes, they are all really correctable and that’s not coach speak,” Venables said. “We have good enough guys to do and it is our job to get them coached up.”