By Hale McGranahan.
Before getting too caught up with Dylan Thompson, Pharoh Cooper and Shaq Davidson, Clemson fans might want to take a second or two to familiarize themselves with Nick Arbuckle, Donovan Harden and Joel Ruiz.
Georgia State will visit Clemson on Saturday with the No. 22 ranked passing offense in the country.
Arbuckle, who’s in his first season as the Panthers’ starting quarterback, has passed for 2,812 yards with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Harden leads Georgia State with 52 catches for 796 yards and seven touchdowns. Ruiz, the Panthers’ top tight end, has 38 receptions for 472 yards and three scores.
Those are the guys Brent Venables and his No. 2 ranked defense are focused on this week. The South Carolina trio will have to wait their turn.
“You can’t put the cart before the horse, I’ve said that a lot. I just believe firmly that you’ve got to focus on the now,” Venables said. “Everything has its time. Our guys want to play. If you don’t prepare the right way or focus the right way, respect people the right way, you’re not going to play the right way, so it’s pretty easy.
“We’re playing Georgia State this week. We need to get our eighth win. We lost a week ago, humbled a week ago. We don’t have the right to be looking past anybody.”
Despite their 1-9 record, Venables called Georgia State a “good, competitive team.”
“They’ve been in a bunch of tight games this season. They’ve got some good, quality players that have had good success on offense. Our guys have seen that,” Venables said. “They watched that team go to Washington and be up at Washington. I’ve been there a couple of times myself, that’s a very difficult place to play and they’re winning 14-0 at halftime. You don’t do that when you’ve got a bunch of ham and eggers. You do that when you’ve got players, guys that are capable, guys that believe.”
On offense, Georgia State will offer plenty of four-wide spread looks.
“Some of the same stuff that you see our offense do and a lot of these offenses where they incorporate a tight end in and outside of the box, getting four-wide and some motions with some eye-candy things,” Venables said. Enough run game and some gap schemes that force you to play with the numbers in the box as well, to stop the run, so you can’t sit in a two-shell (zone) all day.
“I think that’s a big reason why there’s more parity in college football now. It’s like option philosophy years and years ago. A guy understands space and can catch the football. And, in a lot of those zone schemes, those guys aren’t getting pressed and knocked around. It’s easy for guys to get open and quarterbacks to throw it, you don’t have to block those guys up front, just kind of get in somebody’s way. You can execute, play the cat-and-mouse game with the numbers, count the box, steal your signals and all that kind of stuff, to get an upper-hand, offensively.”
Venables added, “They run a ton of double-moves and some things that really challenge your discipline, like an option team would with a post-wheel-concept. You’ve got bad eyes or bad technique, these guys can go up and get the ball, the quarterback places it in the right spot. They know how to try to manipulate you. They’re a no-huddle team.
“They pick and choose their spots, recognize coverages, pressures and things like that, try to put themselves in good, positive plays. They haven’t just fallen off the turnip truck. These guys, you can see they have a system in place, offensively. They know what they’re doing and they’ve got a good quarterback that’s managing them well. Don’t expect a lot of five and seven-step drops, under three seconds, they’re launching the ball.”