When Brent Venables thinks about the performance of his defense through the first two games of the 2020 season and then reflects on last year’s unit, the biggest difference that jumps out to Clemson’s defensive coordinator is the improved defensive line.
A look at the stat sheet shows how productive the Tigers have been up front so far, as they are currently tied for fourth in college football with 10.0 sacks and rank eighth nationally with 23.0 tackles for loss.
“Probably the most noticeable thing is just that we’ve improved up front,” Venables said Monday when asked what he has learned about his defense through two weeks. “Even though we’ve lost some guys, have some guys out, I’ve seen noticeably a number of players that have improved and gotten better from where we were in the spring. It’s a long season, you’ve got a lot of challenges ahead, but that’s been great.”
Venables has also been pleased with what he’s seen from some of the talented freshmen who have gotten early playing time and gained experienced over the first couple of games — guys like defensive linemen Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy, both of whom have made an immediate impact.
“I think we’ve got some young guys that have great futures,” Venables said. “Just in regards to some of the depth, a bunch of babies out there running around, now for the first time getting their ears wet. There’s going to be good days and bad days, but really excited about some of our young players across the board up front and in the back end.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Venables singled out a pair of seniors –linebacker James Skalski and safety Nolan Turner — for the job they have done anchoring the defense thus far.
“Those two guys, they’re so steady,” Venables said. “With those seniors, they play at a different kind of level of confidence and consistency that you want all your players to play with. But Skalski, he’s been just a machine. He makes every play he’s supposed to and then three or four other plays that are just effort kind of plays, instinct kind of plays that really show up.”
Clemson’s defense heads into Saturday’s game vs. Virginia ranked No. 5 in the country in total defense (246.0 yards per game allowed) and tied for fourth in scoring defense (6.5 points per game allowed).
As solid as the unit was overall against Wake Forest and The Citadel, Venables says the Tigers have a ways to go in order to reach their full potential and still have plenty of areas they can get better in on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’re not anywhere close to where I believe that we will be by the end of the year,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of growth to do, a lot of improvement fundamentally, scheme. Still working on our chemistry — that’s developed over the season. What our identity is, I don’t know what that is yet. But we’re fixing to get really challenged here moving forward in the meat of our schedule, so we’re going to find out a lot about our team over the next month or so. But a lot to look forward to, though, for sure.”
Another championship season is underway for the Tigers. It’s time to gear up for another year of Clemson football.
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