By Hale McGranahan.
Whenever Brent Venables hangs up his coaching whistle, the 2014 group from Clemson is certain to go down as one his favorite defenses.
Unless something miraculous happens when Wisconsin, Stanford, Louisville and Michigan State play their respective bowl games, Clemson will finish the year with the fewest number of yards allowed per game.
Clemson entered Monday night’s Russell Athletic Bowl giving up 259.6 yards per contest. In the 40-6 whipping of Oklahoma, the Sooners accumulated just 275 total yards (103 passing, 175 rushing).
But Venables isn’t really a stats guy. The former Oklahoma defensive coordinator prefers results.
“Sometimes, stats are whatever, but there can’t be a better group in America,” he said of the Tigers’ defense. “To watch them to continue to fight through adversity, that’s life 101, and to watch them continue to believe, continue to support one another, grow and keep fighting those different battles from week to week — at the end of the year, to say, statistically speaking, that’s pretty cool to watch them be able to say it matter-of-factly.
“They deserve that explanation mark they put on their tonight. That was a very good offense that they took control of from the onset.”
Venables couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear when he met with reporters after the game. And who could blame the guy for feeling good about beating the team he helped coach for parts of three decades?
Familiarity with the coaches and schemes at Oklahoma, Venables said, didn’t have much to do with the dominant performance by the Clemson defense. Instead, he credited his Jimmies and Joes for making the plan work.
“All those schemes, we didn’t do anything anybody else wouldn’t do against them,” Venables said. “Our guys just went out and they executed. We had some things go our way. They put the ball on the ground. We had a couple of breaks there and took advantage of them. Guys playing hard, those guys went out there and earned it, and took the victory.
“Regardless of my familiarity, I can’t go out there and tackle and cover anybody. They’ve got to be the ones to line up, put there hand and the dirt and fight the fight.”
The Tigers forced five turnovers against the Sooners, the highest single-game total by a Clemson defense in the 39 games since Venables came on board in 2012.
No Clemson defense has had that many since the 2011 group notched six against North Carolina.
Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford, Grady Jarrett, Deshawn Williams, Josh Watson, Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward, Garry Peters and Robert Smith were all freshman that season, which was capped with a program-changing 70-33 loss to West Virginia. All nine of those newly departed seniors started for Clemson in 2014.
“With the way they carried themselves, with the character that they had, a hunger that they possessed all year — even tonight, they weren’t easily satisfied,” Venables said. “Real proud of those guys and to have an association with them and they’re legacy will be pretty special in Clemson history.”
There haven’t been too many times in his coaching career that he’s been able to say that.
“In this profession,” Venables said, “We hit it just right this year with that group of guys, that just doesn’t happen.”