By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
In recent history, if the Clemson defense has set any records at all, they have been the wrong kind. Clemson fans need not be reminded of some of the poor performances of the past.
But during Saturday’s victory over South Carolina State, the Tiger defensive unit scored a pair of touchdowns that helped fuel a 52-14 win. In the process, Brent Venables became the first Clemson defensive coordinator to preside over a group that returned two picks to the end zone in a single game.
“I think it shows we’ve got guys with good ball skills and awareness that know what to do with the football when they get it,” he said. “It’s about guys being sure of themselves and playing in an aggressive manner.”
Two of Clemson’s first three touchdowns during Saturday’s contest were scored by Venables’ unit. Martin Jenkins returned an interception 52 yards for a score with 3:33 left in the first quarter, then Darius Robinson picked off a tipped pass and raced 35 yards to the end zone a mere 1:12 into the second quarter.
Venables says the ability to score touchdowns on defense will pay major dividends down the road for his unit, if it continues. The potential impact of such scoring plays on an opponent, according to Venables, is enormous.
“I think it makes a huge difference in the game, obviously,” the second-year defensive coordinator said. “I don’t know what the measuring stick is on it. When you’re disruptive that way, you can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of the game and get an offense out of the flow and score points. When you combine that with the style of offense we have, that’s a pretty solid recipe.”
Venables knows these things happen from time to time. Big plays on defense are sometimes dictated by offensive miscues. Other times a defender goes above and beyond to make an individual play. But forcing turnovers and returning them for touchdowns is not his barometer for success.
Instead, Venables says big plays are the result of a certain mentality, not the cause of one. He feels this group of Tiger defenders possesses such a mindset, which is why the end zone was wide open to receive them against the Bulldogs.
“It’s hard to maintain. That doesn’t just happen,” Venables said of scoring defensive plays. “Pick-sixes don’t fall out of a tree. With that being said, I would hope that turnovers and that aggressive mentality are a by-product of players understanding what they’re doing, having the right guys in the right positions, and our guys playing in an aggressive manner.”
Fans who see the tangible results of forced turnovers are right to assume improvement has been made defensively. But Venables is taking a more cautious approach, pointing out areas where his unit still needs to grow.
“Our pressure has to improve,” he said. “Our coverage has to improve, both on our underneath and on our back end. We’ve got to continue to improve and disguise, have better communication on the field.”
Touchdown celebrations are normally reserved for offensive skill players, but Jenkins and Robinson got to dabble in that realm last week. Venables hopes it won’t be the last time one of his players is standing in an opposing end zone holding the football this season.