CLEMSON — Over the last month, a beleaguered Clemson defense has improved markedly.
The Tigers are allowing 169 yards rushing per game for the season, 75th nationally; a month ago, the average was 202 yards per game, 102nd nationally.
In that same time span, Clemson’s scoring defense has gone from 71st to 33rd nationally, and its total defense from 96th to 57th.
Entering Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. visit from N.C. State, Clemson is allowing 22.4 points and 389.1 yards per game, but the Wolfpack will provide a major test. Behind senior quarterback Mike Glennon, State is averaging 291 passing yards per game, 27th-best nationally.
Tuesday, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables discussed his defense’s improvement and the challenges presented by the Wolfpack’s passing game with reporters.
This is an edited version of the conversation.
Is doing the small things fueling improvement: “I think that’s the biggest reason, more than anything. The cleanliness of how we’re playing, our positioning. We’re minimizing breakdowns and mental errors, improved our tackling. There are a lot of variables that go into it. Some of that’s your opponent but that’s not what I’m talking about, the improvement we’re seeing. It’s all the little things we’re doing better. Just staying square, getting lined up correctly, guys doing their job fitting things accordingly. Getting in the right drops, covering guys with better technique, improving our coverage, playing disciplined vs. trick plays. There are so many things we’re doing on a much more consistent level that’s giving us a chance to have success.
“As we said weekly, if you don’t do it right against the scout team they’re going to light you up. What does doing it right mean? All those things. So we have made a consistent improvement in a number of those things. As you play better personnel, the margin for error increases dramatically. We’ll be challenged in various ways this week.”
On playing N.C. State’s passing offense: “A lot of things are different with what they do. They do a great job getting the ball to different people, tight ends, backs, receivers. Different looks. They’re very precise in what they do, they’re very efficient. It’s a pro-style system, it’s got a guy (Mike Glennon) who we think is one of the best couple guys in this conference and is playing that way, without question. And not just based on what people think he might be. It’s actually warranted. Going back and watching how they played, not just last week but against Florida State with very good personnel, and he’s probably the biggest reason why they were able to win that game. His leadership, his poise, his ability to execute, and not just execute but really make throw after throw after throw. Again it takes guys to block and takes guys to catch. But he put balls in tight places. They definitely have earned our respect. Not that they’re looking for that, but we’re going to have to play really, really well, better than we have all year to be honest.”
On Glennon as a dropback passer: “I think he ranks right up there with (the elite ACC passers). He’s got a big arm, great poise, he stands tall in the pocket. And really delivers the ball, puts a great spin on it, can make all the throws. All of the throws with great accuracy. Sometimes a guy can throw it a country mile and put it on the money. And you ask him to throw a five-yard checkdown and it’s ricocheting off people’s facemasks. He can do it all. They’ve done a great job. You can see he feels very comfortable in that system, knows where to go with the ball. A, B, C, he goes 1-2-3-4. He’s not going to just stare one thing down. That forces you to play with great discipline, and great coverage.”
On this being a more challenging matchup than the last month: “I’m not necessarily saying that. I recognize the precision this group plays with, and the maturity they play with. There’s a lot of experience in this group. And there’s less margin for error against these guys.”
On keeping focus with big leads: “Sometimes I’ve been a part of when that’s the case, but I think when we play so many guys. The cleaning crew played last week. We play so many guys it keeps them engaged. And it keeps the older guys, the guys that actually start the game, it keeps them engaged. They like watching their buddies, too.”
Does DE Vic Beasley remind you of anyone when you project his future: “He’s one of those guys that sometimes even when he’s wrong, he ‘s right. He makes up for it with his athletic ability, his explosiveness, his quickness. One of those ‘No, no, no, yes’ guys. So I think if he really worked at becoming a great player, I think he’d have a chance of becoming one in time. But there’s a lot to that. So he’s really got to.. he’s a very talented young guy who’s still trying to figure it all out.”
On confidence built after stopping teams from scoring after a turnover: “It is an attitude. You try and feel like you’re fostering that train of thought. It’s part of the game. You’ve got two directions which you can go. And I think our guys have had good toughness, mental toughness that it takes to respond. Not just once or twice but over a period of time, the test of time usually tells where you’re at. That speaks volumes for those guys and their mentality, their attitude and their pride. It does start to create an identity of itself, and the attitude is so incredibly important, the mindset, it’s so undervalued in all sports. But particularly when you’re facing adversity – now you’re going to find out. And as a coach, you’d rather be on this end than any, because I think it shows. It’s reflective of a toughness you want guys to be about.