At the halfway point of the season, it’s no secret Clemson’s offense leaves a lot to be desired.
Currently the unit ranks 115th in the FBS in total offense, 114th in points scored, 107th in passing offense and 84th in rushing offense.
Defensively, the Tigers boast one of the stingiest units nationally, ranked second nationally in scoring defense and 24th in total defense.
But Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables warned against segregating the two groups and emphasized the culture in the program does not allow for that type of thinking regardless of the statistics.
“We don’t look at it like that at all,” Venables said on Monday. “You have success as a team, you have failure as a team, and I think it’s easy to try and segment one side of the ball to the other.
“But that’s the game. Cohesively, can you play together, complement one another and help one another?”
In Venables’ view, an outsider cannot parse out Clemson’s early season struggles on offense from the success and failure of the team as a whole. Because that’s not how the Tigers approach their own issues in season.
The defensive coordinator approaches the sport with the perspective that if you win the battle defensively and make plays on special teams, any added success on offense is gravy.
Through the first six games, the Tigers answered that call, and the game at Syracuse proved a prime example.
On defense, Clemson responded and held Orange running back Sean Tucker to 25 yards rushing in the second half. In the opening two quarters, Tucker, the nation’s leading rusher, carried the ball 12 times for 132 yards.
The special teams unit also answered the call and kept Syracuse from exploding on kickoff and punt returns. The fake punt pass by punter Will Spiers also extended a scoring drive and proved the difference in the game for the Tigers.
“There’s no division or disappointment in worrying what is or isn’t going on on the other side of the ball man,” Venables said. “That’s how we have built the program to be that way and make the most of your opportunities.”
He pointed out the success of Clemson’s offense over the last decade and how it helped cover up deficiencies on defense.
But at the end of the day, Venables is okay with the fact Clemson has yet to peak.
“We just aren’t reaching our potential yet, which is a good thing if you put it all together on both sides of the ball and get some guys healthy to still have a great year,” Venables said. “For us as coaches, we have to do a great job of shielding our players, keeping it real with them, being matter of fact and keep getting better because that’s what the good teams do.”
Venables sees the incremental improvement on both sides of the ball despite a host of injuries and adversity. And he truly believes this team is a few plays away from turning the corner as they gear up for a big-time matchup at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“That’s the thing you love about college athletics is the passion, the live-or-die mindset of everybody involved, the passion the fans have and the pride for their school and all that,” Venables said.
“But it can be a fatalistic mindset that is unrealistic at times, too, so somewhere in between is where it all lies,” he continued. “And I would just say that we truly are, with wherever we are or whatever deficiencies we have, we are a couple of plays away from being in a pretty dang good position.”
Venables’ positive mindset sheds light into the culture of the Clemson locker room and program.
It also gives depth to head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott’s comments about this team hanging on the verge of a breakthrough despite the evidence.
“You want to see that growth happen and it’s never as fast as you want,” Venables said. “Sometimes when we get so stuck on what you don’t do then you don’t see the progress that has been made, and that’s a bad place to live in any phase of your life to be negative and not finding ways to see the positive in the storm.”
For now, the Tigers are sticking with the positives and building on the positives they have seen throughout the season, even when it’s hard for people on the outside to see.
“But we do and that’s what good coaches do — you find the things you’re doing well and try to build on those,” Venables said.
Clemson travels to Pitt on Saturday at Heinz Field with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m.
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