CLEMSON — Weeks like this are a big reason why Brent Venables is here, now.
A year ago, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw shredded Clemson’s defense, passing for 210 yards, rushing for 107 and accounting for four touchdowns in the Gamecocks’ 34-13 win.
It was the latest sign Kevin Steele’s defense couldn’t handle mobile quarterbacks, a fact hammered home in West Virginia’s 70-33 Orange Bowl rout.
Clemson has shown improved success against mobile passers this season, but Shaw will provide the stiffest test yet for a revamped defense and mature linebacker corps.
Tuesday, Venables discussed Shaw, his unit’s struggles against N.C. State and more in his weekly visit with reporters. An edited version of the conversation follows.
On defending Connor Shaw and if they’ll use the same plan they used against FSU’s E.J. Manuel: “Whatever plan we used against Manuel, we don’t want to use it this week. Yeah, it’s obvious you look around college football and in the NFL. Guys that aren’t just one-dimensional – some guys are just runners, some guys are just throwers – when guys can do both, it makes it much more difficult, much more stressful in all facets of your defense. It makes things a little more complicated. It extends plays, can create big plays if you don’t maintain discipline, whether it’s up front or discipline in your rush lanes, or discipline in the back end, trying to do too much. When do I come off my guy? They do a great job of working the scramble drill, fighting to get open.
“He’s had great success the last two years. You just look at the team success and it’s reflective of the quarterback play. And it’ll be a huge challenge, one that our guys are very aware of. He was a big part of their success against us last year, running and throwing both. It’ll be a big challenge.”
On how this rivalry compares to OU-Oklahoma State and OU-Texas: “The biggest thing that you recognize, college football is so passionate. There’s a real attachment. In virtually every home in South Carolina, someone’s wearing a orange or garnet. Everyone’s got a stake in the game. It’s a long tradition-rich rivalry that there’s a lot of emotions, memories and everything that goes along with it. It doesn’t surprise me. You change the colors and It’s another huge rivalry game. It means a great deal to both coaches and players and certainly the constituency that’s out there. They’ve had their way with us, it’s made everyone pretty mad around here. For us, coaches and players, it’s a very exciting week. One where the game can’t get here soon enough, although there’s a process in how you prepare and get ready to play. You’re not going to play on Tuesday, and that’s the part that we as coaches have to do a good job of managing. The emotions of it. There’ll be ebb and flow of the game. You hate to think it’s true. You want great intensity and emotion every week but it’s not always the same as Clemson-South Carolina.”
On man defenses vs. quarterback running: “When you’re in man-to-man you have less eyes on the quarterback. Sometimes it’s really good, sometimes it’s not. When you’re containing him in your rush lanes, covering the right people with good coverage and technique, it’s not as hard to defend. When one of those things breaks down, and he breaks out of the pocket, gets outside, those things, that’s when bad things can happen.”
On if he’s more dangerous as a rollout QB: “If he’s a thrower and a scrambler, and (Shaw) is. We saw for example, (Shawn Petty) from Maryland, which you would expect. We said when he pulls it down, come off your man, let’s come terrorize (Petty). Quarterbacks have that tunnel vision, they can panic and you can really tee off. That’s not the case here. You have to really be disciplined because he can create a lot of big plays with his legs and extend plays.”
Were mental mistakes factor in last week’s struggles: “There weren’t very many mental mistakes. It was a low mental-mistake game, believe it or not. A guy losing leverage in his coverage is what happened a few times. We did have a mental error on a touchdown that was wide open. I think the precision broke down a number of different times. But if you say it’s just us, that takes away from them. I thought (Mike Glennon) was very precise, executed at times very well. I still didn’t ever feel the game – I thought we were in control. Maybe that’s because we were very good up front, our front seven was very sound, and solid, and aggressive and attacking, creating another line of scrimmage. I thought we had good pressure most of the day. There were times he had more pressure than you’d like in some of the seven and eight-man protections where guys have to be in good position on the back end. Guys are going to have time to throw the ball deep and stay on top of it. We didn’t do that well obviously.
“Four of their six touchdowns came on one-play drives. That’s not good defense. That said, keeping that in perspective, I think it also shows that they consistently didn’t sustain anything. They got a drive here, a drive there, but we always answered. You can’t take those four one-touchdown drives away, but you can say, ‘OK, what took place here?’ Twice we let guys run by us, and we didn’t play with good discipline on the sprint throwback for a touchdown after (an interception). Then I put the defense in the bad call on a play after the (81-yard kick return). They ran a zone play, I put them in a bad position. I called it before they snapped the ball – this isn’t going to be good. There are things we can do better on that play. But they were in a tough call, a compromising call. I don’t want to sugarcoat anything. We need to be better in all kinds of places and areas. I thought it was good for our guys to (see) the precision good teams need to play with, and the margin for error is reduced dramatically when you play against good people – whether it’s a first-round guy, or a guy that throws with good accuracy, receivers that know how to get open, a line that knows how to protect and get guys open, a lot of little things. Incredibly disappointed with their ability to move the ball at times, whether they were big plays or not. They all count, and score touchdowns. There were a ton of really good things that our guys did in the game. As much as anything, fought back through a great deal of adversity against a team that is really fully aware of, is more than capable. They’ve got quality players and for whatever reason their record is not indicative of their ability as a team. They were a lot of people’s darkhorse going into the season, and justifiably so. They’re a talented team with good coaches. Sometimes your chemistry is a little bit off. Not to get on them but sometimes it’s not there. They gave themselves a chance, obviously. Sometimes we didn’t help but they executed in a precise way.”
On this week’s message: “Keep that leverage we’ve been talking about here for six months. If you get outside, stay outside. If you get inside, stay inside. There’s no more magical way to explain it, and I’m sure you know that. You’ve just got to continue to demand, reaffirm and coach and teach, those types of little things and the trust that goes with it. The sense of desperation that goes with it. Sometimes corners aren’t challenged for a number of plays in a row. When you start to relax, guys can run by you. (South Carolina) is as capable of any team we play of doing that and I know coach Spurrier is well aware of that. So we’ll be challenged that way. I think our guys will look forward to that, look forward to redemption to. Letting guys run by us – there’s ownership immediately. There’s willingness to be coached, they took responsibility for it. That’s what you need to grow. We gave ourselves a chance going into this week.”