By William Qualkinbush
After his defense took a pair of interceptions in for touchdowns against South Carolina State, defensive coordinator Brent Venables said making big plays on defense is indicative of a unit playing together well.
“I would hope that turnovers and an aggressive mentality are a by-product of players understanding what they’re doing, having the right guys in the right position, and having our guys play in an aggressive manner,” he said then.
Since that point, the third-ranked Tigers have continued to force the issue on defense. They took the ball away from N.C. State twice, then they did the same thing on Saturday in a 56-7 win over Wake Forest.
Through four games, Venables has seen his group force nine turnovers, an average of 2.3 per game. Clemson is on pace to have 27 takeaways during the regular season, a decent number but not one that is quite up to Venables’ lofty standards.
Venables wants his defenses to be between 33 and 45 takeaways in a given season. He says teams in that range generally rank among the top ten defenses in the country. So while forcing multiple turnovers in all four games this season might seem appealing to fans, Venables wants more—even as he appreciates the effort he is already seeing on the field.
“I’m not trying to downplay it, either,” Venables said. “I’ll take two as opposed to none or one. I think it’ll come.”
Defenses are often defined by some of the peripheral stats, things that come outside of simple points and yards allowed. Different kinds of defenses can arrive at similar outputs, so other figures are needed to paint a full picture of how a defense plays.
Clemson was an attacking unit on Saturday. There was a fumble recovery that led to a touchdown, and two others were forced. There was an interception that led to a touchdown. There were three sacks, including Vic Beasley’s sixth in four games. The Tigers totaled ten tackles for loss, broke up three passes, and pressured Wake Forest quarterbacks three times.
In short, Clemson’s defense controlled the flow of action with an aggressive mindset during Saturday’s game.
“It sets the tempo,” Venables said of forcing turnovers and being disruptive. “It builds confidence. It creates field position, which turns into points.
“Turnovers are always a huge part of the game. They make a big difference in momentum. Our guys really seized the moment.”
Venables speaks often about both the offense and defense complementing each other. Those who spent Saturday afternoon taking in the events on the Memorial Stadium turf would probably affirm its importance, citing the team effort against Wake Forest as a prime example.
Through the weekend’s action, Clemson is tied for the ACC lead in turnover margin at +7. Even if Venables wants his team to take the football away from opponents more often, such a statistic is likely to elicit a smile from the former Oklahoma assistant—especially when he thinks about all that went right during a shutdown performance against a division foe on Homecoming.