CLEMSON — Brent Venables’ defense is developing into a competent unit, having held Clemson’s last three opponents to 20 points or less. After allowing an average of 37 points and 523 yards in its first three ACC games, it has allowed an average of 16.6 points and 346 yards over its last three.
The Tigers face a unique challenge when Maryland visits Saturday; the Terrapins, who have lost four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries (three to ACL tears) are starting freshman Shawn Petty, a converted linebacker. Venables must evaluate the Terps’ offense on the basis of Saturday’s loss at Georgia Tech, limiting his usual scope available at this point in the season.
Venables discussed Maryland’s offense, his defense’s progress on the line, in the secondary and more with reporters Tuesday.
On Maryland’s offense and the challenges it presents: “I thought their coaches did a terrific job under those circumstances, and what an absolute nightmare they’re having to deal with right now. I think (Petty) has got a good strong supporting cast, I know that’s dwindled from what it was. Watching some of the earlier games in the year, they’ve got some good skill guys, they’re done a good job recruiting good players. I know they’ve lost some of the dynamic playmaking ability. I think (quarterback Shawn Petty) did a good job of giving them a chance to execute what they want to do and I know facing the option, it’s hard to get the ball back and have opportunities to score. They force you to maximize the few opportunities that you have. I don’t think that was indicative, the final score (33-13 Georgia Tech) of where they really are.
“Although, again, they have faced some difficult circumstances, to say the least. It was very windy, so it’s really hard to gauge what kind of accuracy he has. Although you can see he’s a big, strong athlete who can throw the ball. Didn’t seem to get overwhelmed with anything. I thought Georgia Tech defensively played well structurally and were in good position, I think (tailback) Wes Brown and (wideout) Stefon Diggs very well, had recruited them prior to coming to Clemson. Wes is a big strong running back and plays with a great pad lean. Stefon Diggs, he’s like the freaks we’ve got on offense. He’s that level of player. Very highly skilled. Terrific ball skills. You throw it within a few yards of him and he can make some big-time plays. He can make you miss. He’s got top-end speed and good leaping ability. (Matt Furstenburg) is a big tight end who’s hurt us the last couple years. I saw an offensive line that’s got experience. They can help this transition for the new quarterback.”
On the challenges: “What’s difficult, from our standpoint, is you don’t have a ton of tape and you don’t know the different things they’re going to do run and pass. You just don’t know. It’s a lot more difficult than you would think in the preparation. They don’t have a lot of DNA to go by. We’ve got to focus on us as much as anything. Making sure we’re fundamentally sound. We’ve still got a million things to get better at, obviously, and we’ve got to make sure we’re still focused on doing that. There’s things all over the board that we’ve got to keep getting better at. We’ve got to make sure that’s a big thing we need to do during the course of this week. Whatever we haven’t defended well, people are going to employ and challenge us and see if we’ve fixed or corrected it, whether it’s a fundamental or scheme issue, or probably a combination of those things. I know (offensive coordinator) Mike Locksley’s background, very, very successful coach, coordinator and playcaller. Very creative and innovative as well. (Petty) brings a skill set that he’s used to as far as the athletic option background and I think he can give them a chance to win.”
On Robert Smith’s play at safety: “He’s our second-team guy, the other guy (senior safety Jonathan Meeks) got hurt, he comes out, he’s limping. I don’t really ask, just next guy in. I’m making calls, honestly, someone’s coming over, we’re not going to get him back, or we’re going to get him back, it doesn’t affect me at all. It really can’t. You’ve got to control what you can control. Robert got in, did a really nice job, almost makes a terrific play on one (pass breakup) before half. Robert’s a talented young man who just needs to play. He obviously doesn’t have (much) experience. He’s done a great job. Very conscientious. He’s fast, he’s physical, played high school quarterback. Unfortunate we’ve had to move him at free and strong in the seven months I’ve been here. Trying to piece things together. That’s not always easy to do, but he’s done a nice job that way and has a nice future.”
On the secondary’s overall play despite the 77-yard touchdown allowed at Duke: “Pretty good. We’ve still got to get better, still got to make improvement in all the areas, covering, tackling, eye control, all that. But they’re in line with everyone else. They did settle in and were in better position for the most part. We got a bunch of guys playing in the back end as well. I said after the game I played nine linebackers. I’d never done that in a whole season. That’s also reflective of all the players at all the other positions that are playing. That’s out of my comfort zone, but I think it’s very healthy for me, too. Healthy for our football team and our morale. And gaining experience for these guys and developing the depth.”
On developing depth and the progress of the young defensive line: “Just guys getting better from playing. Getting more sure of themselves. The language is becoming more second nature so they’re not having to think as much. I think they’re understanding situations better. Anticipating prior to third down, and playing with good effort, toughness and fundamentals to give themselves a chance to make some of those plays. We felt going in that Duke was a very solid offensive line, very sound, very well-coached, very tough. Their offensive line coach, he and I were together at Kansas State and he’s a tough guy, his players play that way. To see our players match that toughness and get after them a little bit, that was pleasing to see.”
On the key to sustaining success over the long haul: “A lot of things are important. Stability in your administration, consistency and continuity in your staff. And having the ability to recruit at a high level. Players help make everything easy. That’s the foundation, and then the consistency with your approach. You’ve got to be thorough, and detailed in how you run a program. The consistency in your approach, having a foundation of recruiting tough, disciplined players, and again, they’re hard-working. It doesn’t have to be real flashy. It just doesn’t. That’s contrary to popular belief anymore in this day and age – let’s see what new play this team comes up with this week or what cool new uniform this team shows up in. That’s not how you win, but kids like that and you can recruit some kids like that. But if that’s why they’re making decisions, that’s not the kid I want to coach anyway. I’m in it, I get it, but I want guys that have a little more substance to them myself. I think, Bill Snyder, he’s the model of consistency as a coach. He doesn’t change. He’s faceless. Day in and day out in his approach to young people. There’s a comfort in that a very systematic approach. When you start deviating, being here and there and everyone else, kids start seeing right through you and it gets everyone out of their comfort zone. Having a foundation of those things are critical.”