Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables doesn’t need to say anything to motivate his defense heading into Saturday’s game vs. Syracuse at Death Valley.
All Venables has to do is show his defense the tape of Clemson’s game against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome last October, when the Orange racked up 440 yards, 28 first downs and six plays of 20 yards or more in their upset 27-24 victory.
Syracuse’s offense began the game with a 10-play, 72-yard drive for a touchdown, and the Orange never trailed on their way to a shocking win.
Reflecting on the poor defensive performance, Venables said it started with missed assignments and a failure to execute simple fundamentals.
“To me, it starts with they run their base play. We’ve got three runs on the first drive that we don’t fit right that are basic and fundamental to what we do, and we were lined up,” Venables said. “We had plenty of time. We were lined up with our hand in the dirt, with our eyes on our key, and we don’t fit the run right – a power, a split-flow play and a zone, and they go for 8 (yards) and 8 and 7. You can’t play defense – nothing is good – if you don’t do those basic fundamental things.
“So, it ain’t late in the game. Late in the game is a bad product of not doing everything else right early in the game, starting with the first drive. You don’t get control of the game when you don’t make the ‘layups. We were airballing layups, and so to me, that’s where it starts. And absolutely, we showed it (the film) to them.”
Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey completed 20-of-32 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Clemson last season. So far this season, he has thrown for 763 yards and nine touchdowns against just one interception while rushing for 354 yards and four touchdowns on 51 carries.
The senior from Lake Oswego, Ore., ranks fourth among ACC quarterbacks with a 63.7 completion percentage, fourth in the conference with a 164.6 passer rating, fifth in passing yards and is tied for second with his nine touchdown passes.
“They have good players and a quarterback that knows what to do,” Venables said of Syracuse, which is 4-0 (1-0 ACC) and currently tied with Clemson atop the ACC Atlantic Division. “The ball gets there fast. Their ability to run the ball, whether it’s the quarterback as a runner, designed runs or buying time with his legs… Those are the toughest guys to defend when they can do both – throw the ball down the field with accuracy and have the designed quarterback run game that requires extra hats to stop. And again, just the overall moxy and intangibles, the instincts, decision-making, things of that nature that Dungey presents… He’s an excellent player.”
Venables knows his unit will have to come prepared and ready to play Saturday in order to slow down Syracuse’s offense, which is 10th nationally in points per game (49.5), ninth in rushing yards per game (278) and 13th in total yards per game (523).
“I think our guys have a good understanding of what they’re getting into this week,” Venables said. “They create a lot of challenges to you defensively. They’ve got good players, a great quarterback, an experienced team on both sides of the ball and obviously a lot of confidence after having whooped us last year. So, I think our guys are excited about the challenge.”
An important aspect of the Orange offense that makes it tough to stop is how fast it plays.
Syracuse is tied for sixth in the country in total offensive plays run at 334, but Venables says the offense’s tempo will not be an excuse for his defense.
“If their guys are playing every snap and they’re playing really fast, then in my mind we should be able to do the same thing,” Venables said. “So, I think the biggest thing is knowing what to do, getting their hand in the dirt, having a sense of urgency to get down and play technique and play fast.”
Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC) has momentum defensively heading into Saturday’s game, having allowed a combined total of just 343 yards of offense in its past two games vs. Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech after giving up 501 yards to Texas A&M on Sept. 8.
“We had a good outing last week and a good rhythm the last few weeks,” Venables said. “It’s just a different type of preparation obviously, different type of scheme, structure, all those things. But I think our guys are looking forward to the opportunity to see how we match up.”