By William Qualkinbush
Brent Venables was testy after Clemson’s game against South Carolina, and he had a right to be. He was the defensive coordinator of a team that lost a rivalry game.
In the aftermath of fourth-ranked Clemson’s 31-17 defeat at the hands of ninth-ranked South Carolina on Saturday night, Venables lamented his unit’s inability to make plays despite his efforts to pull out all the stops.
“We tried everything,” he said. “None of it worked, obviously.”
South Carolina tailback Mike Davis might disagree with his assessment. He found the going tough against the Clemson defense on Saturday.
Davis entered the game as one of the nation’s leading runners. He ranked second in the SEC in rushing yardage and appeared poised for a big game with his brother James, a former Clemson running back, in attendance.
Instead, Davis was bottled up from the outset. The sophomore ran for a season-low 22 yards on 15 carries. In addition, he contributed very little as a pass-receiver, catching two balls for ten yards in the game.
Davis’ previous low was a 51-yard game at Missouri, which was also the only other time he was held to fewer than three yards per carry. Saturday’s performance dropped him down to fourth in his conference and out of the top 25 nationally in rushing.
Clemson’s defensive front never allowed the Gamecocks to establish a traditional running game. Davis’ longest run was a four-yard gain in the first quarter that set up South Carolina’s first score. His per-carry average currently rests at 5.9.
For some across the country, this might have been an eye-popping performance. But for the Clemson defense, it was business as usual.
“It was expected,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “When you’re facing a good running back, you have to expect to stop the run. We went against a lot of good running backs this year. We feel like we’ve done pretty well against them.”
The Tigers held the nation’s leading rusher—Boston College’s Andre Williams—over 100 yards beneath his season average earlier this season. They continued the trend against Davis, who averages 103.1 rushing yards per game for the year.
Neutralizing Davis as a threat might seem to be a positive development for the Tigers, but their collective inability to account for the quarterback running game with Connor Shaw made it easier for the Gamecocks to adjust their plan to gain yards on the ground.
“After a while, you kind of expected it,” Jarrett said of the Gamecocks featuring Shaw in the running game. “They mixed it in pretty well.”
The lackluster performance against Shaw’s scrambling ability put a damper on what was a schematic win for Venables’ defense. As Clemson’s second-year coordinator looks at the big picture, all he sees is yards and points, not necessarily who gets them.
“It all goes hand-in-hand,” Venables said. “He’s part of the run game every bit as much as Davis is. If you want to be effective, you can’t do one without the other.”
Clemson got it half-right on Saturday. It needed the other half for victory.