Defense is mindful of challenge it faces in playing triple-option teams in back-to-back weeks
By Will Vandervort
The first thing that went through Dabo Swinney’s mind when the 2013 football schedule came out last spring was the back-to-back weeks his Clemson team had to face an opponent that ran the triple-option.
The sixth-ranked Tigers already disposed of Atlantic Coast Conference rival Georgia Tech last Thursday, now they are gearing up to take on a Citadel attack that is averaging 282.1 yards per game on the ground. Though Clemson should be more than ready to face the Bulldogs’ option style offense that is not what is concerning Swinney. He knows the Tigers will be ready to play on Saturday when the game kicks off at noon.
The concern comes from the difficulties the Tigers might have next week when they transition back to a regular style offense, which they will have to do in getting ready for 11th-ranked South Carolina on Nov. 30. Throw in the bye week following the win at Virginia on Nov. 2, and Clemson has not played a normal style offense in three weeks.
“One of the things we do during these particular weeks, we still do a lot of good-on-good,” Swinney said.
Good-on-good is when the first team offense battles the first team defense in practice. Clemson has made it a point in last week’s preparations, and in this week’s, to do a little more good-on-good than usual.
“That way when we go good-on-good, obviously we are not running the triple option, so (the defense) got a lot of work against us last week and this week,” Swinney said.
When Clemson runs the ones vs. the ones the Tigers usually go against each in other in seven-on-seven, team pass, inside and then full-team offense vs. defense drills.
“That’s how we stay sharp,” Swinney said. “I really believe in that. You have to work good-on-good every week all throughout the season. You know, just to have the fastball.”
From week-to-week, when Clemson is running its offensive system against its defensive schemes, they try to apply their system to whatever the other side is presenting. The idea is to stay sharp.
“It isn’t easy to manage. I don’t know whether or not we have the answers for that,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We still do a decent amount of good-on-good and I would be surprised if we forgot everything we learned to this point. We certainly are not taking anything for granted.”
Venables says the Tigers (9-1) did a much better job of slowing down Georgia Tech’s rushing attack then it did last year. The Yellow Jackets were limited to 248 yards, 63 yards below their average. In 2012, Georgia Tech rushed for 339 yards against Clemson.
“I thought we played on the perimeter better,” Venables said. “We did not play bad last year. They were not wearing us out inside last year. They wore us out because they continue to capture the edge. Listen, those guys were a bunch of War Daddy’s last Thursday night. Don’t get me wrong they played outstanding.
“But leveraging of the football was much better.”
Against Georgia Tech, Venables brought his linebackers up, especially early in the game, and had them crash down on the gaps, automatically taking away Tech’s dive, which garnered only 28 rushing yards in the game. With the linebackers crashing down, the safeties took the pitch man, leaving quarterback Vad Lee a lot of times with only the option of eating the ball.
“We certainly congratulated our players and we were pleased with their effort and pleased with their work, their leadership and their toughness. We had a lot to be pleased with,” Venables said. “But (the Georgia Tech game) had an opportunity to be a real special performance and it was a solid one, don’t get me wrong, but it had a chance to be a special performance.
“With a couple of third down conversions and getting off the field when we had the opportunities to, we made some fundamental mistakes.”
Venables was not totally happy because the Tigers gave up three touchdown drives in the second half, including a 65-yard scoring run to open up the half and then a 60-yard drive at the end of the game. It was obvious, he wants his defense to sure up those kinds of mistakes against The Citadel.
“Those plays did happen and we are going to work to find out as to why and make the improvements,” Venables said. “We want to be an elite defense and to be a great defense you cannot have those breakdowns during the course of a game.”