Following Clemson’s 27-17 loss at the hands of No. 23 Pitt on Saturday afternoon, Brent Venables spoke with reporters and gave a blunt assessment of his unit, which had its worst game of the season.
After getting off to a slow start, Clemson’s defensive coordinator wasn’t sure what adjustments Pitt made offensively, but indicated that the Panthers ran the same routes and plays. It was more so that the Tigers didn’t execute as they have all season and weren’t precise enough, a word Venables repeated throughout his postgame press conference.
“I thought our first five drives were excellent,” he said postgame. “That sixth drive, they moved the ball 90 yards down the field in 13 plays. They were just more precise. We make a couple of really good plays, then we would lose leverage on a route or just lack the precision that it takes against a good team to stop them.”
Venables highlights the next drive, which he called arguably, “the most inopportune drive of the night.” Clemson’s defense got less than a minute’s rest as the offense went three-and-out in 26 seconds. On the drive in question, Pickett connected with Taysir Mack, who took advantage of coverage breakdown, for a 39-yard touchdown on a crucial fourth down.
“We did not play very well on that last drive in the most critical situations. We got them to 4th-and-6, lost leverage on a post route,” Venables said. “We can’t allow them to make an easy play like that on fourth down. The drive prior, they make a really nice play…we come right back again, we were just tired there, right before. We did not go out there with the right kind of urgency to get the stop we needed to.”
In the second quarter alone, Clemson allowed 195 yards of total offense. They were able to keep Pitt in check for the game’s first 15 minutes, but the defense eventually gave way, as Clemson’s offense wasn’t able to consistently string together drives.
The defense had kept Kenny Pickett silent much of the first quarter, appearing to rattle the darkhorse Heisman candidate for a period of time. That didn’t last, though. Pickett played like he has all season for the remaining three quarters.
“Now, it’s 14-7 going into the half,” Venables said. “We came out and again, we looked like we were tired out there. We didn’t play with the kind of precision that we needed to. [Pickett] was running around too much. I felt like we allowed them to push the pile too often, after stopping them, they’d fall forward for 3 or 4 more yards.”
That continued to be the theme for the duration of the second half. Pitt only possessed the ball on three offensive drives, but the Panthers managed to take over 20 minutes off the clock, scoring just six points in the process.”
“I just thought we played with great effort,” he added. “Our guys played hard, but we didn’t play as physical as we needed to and we weren’t as precise as we needed to be in real critical situations. We had a chance to still win the game and that was all the way into the fourth quarter. We’re within striking distance and we just couldn’t at times get out of our own way for the plays that were there, and there was plenty of them.”
As Venables indicates there were plays to be made and plays to be had but, Clemson’s defense was just unable to get off the field when it mattered the most. Something it had been able to do in games prior.
“This game will punish you. Good teams will punish you. When you play a good team, you got to be precise. Certainly, you gotta be physical. They’ll make you pay. It’s a very humbling game. I just thought they got into a good rhythm and we couldn’t make the play or a play to change the rhythm of it.”