Brent Venables' Clemson defense gaining confidence in homestretch

Brent Venables watches the Tigers warm up before the game

Photo by Mark Crammer

Brent Venables watches the Tigers warm up before the game

Venables seeing signs of improvement

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— Over the last two weeks, Clemson’s defense has taken a step forward. The Tigers have risen 14 spots in the FBS total defense rankings – from 96th to 82nd – after holding Virginia Tech and Wake Forest to an average of 348 yards and 15 points per game. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables says his group is “simplifying the game and seeing success as a result.”

“It’s not Earth-revelation type of success, but it’s ‘Man, I don’t have to do too much,’” he said. “I just have to look at the guy in front of me and trust he’s going to tell me what to do. Run-pass, the whole deal. That allows guys to play with more confidence, aggressiveness and assuredness at the end of the day.”

Venables discussed his defense’s improvement, Duke’s offense, senior “Will” linebacker Tig Willard and more with reporters Tuesday. This is an edited version of the conversation.

On Duke’s offense: “Very good. Very efficient. Smart with what they do schematically, good decision-making at quarterback. They’ve got a couple of guys who cause you problems with their arm strength, their decision-making and athletic ability. They’ve got good players, don’t make a lot of mistakes. No-huddle, the up-tempo, en vogue spread offense philosophy, take what the defense gives you. But they’re very efficient both running and throwing the ball.”

On if your defensive personnel is set: “We’re constantly evaluating it and trying to give more and more guys opportunities. There’s obviously, with injury situations, we’ve been forced to play more guys. We’re playing consistently six, sometimes seven linebackers and we’re rotating guys up front. You never know in the back end with those guys being banged up. Are we set with 11 guys? No. Are we set with a group of guys who have the opportunity to play week to week? Yeah.”

On improving with more experience: “The experiences, it goes without saying, you’re going to get better by playing more. Doesn’t mean you get better immediately by playing more but over time, that’s going to happen. That’s part of the process. It has paid dividends, it’ll pay even bigger dividends as we go forward. It gives us confidence as coaches, he’s been in there, he’s been in that big fourth-down stop, he’s been in there in critical situations. You feed him more and more. It’s still nothing close to what you want overall but in the big picture, it’s moving forward in the right direction.”

On Tig Willard’s steadiness: “I think it’s a reflection of who he’s been, since I’ve been here. He’s been one of the more consistent performers, whether it’s in practice or scrimmages, the last X number of months. I’m pleased with that. He’s a young man that cares deeply about this program. Very selfless attitude. He’s maximized his opportunities. He’s allowed me as a position coach, although there’s plenty to coach every day, he can put your focus in other places where need be where he can give you a consistent level of effort and playmaking.”

On how he’d fit in your defense: “He’s grown in that role, that understanding. I think he’s playing with a great deal of confidence and a level of comfort. There’s more to be had by a long way. It’s been one of the more pleasing aspects of piecing this thing together.”

On Willard’s wrestling background: “He’s challenged me a time or two but I’ve been smart enough not to step into the ring with him. Wrestlers are tough. I love wrestlers. They’ve got something a lot of guys don’t have.”

On Duke’s quarterbacks: “They’re very efficient, good decision-making, well-coached, they know where to go with the football, and they’ve got the running quarterback schemes that are built in to take advantage of certain things you’re doing. They’ve got the two-quarterback package with two quarterbacks on the field at once. Trying to get you to pick your poison and what you want to do schematically. They’ve got a lot of depth and it all goes through the quarterback and his ability to execute and manage the offense. They’ve caused a lot of people a lot of issues, a lot of problems. But they can run the football and they run it really well. A couple weeks ago that was the deciding factor in how they beat North Carolina. They ran the ball up and down the field on them at will. They’re a north-south team – a lot of the spread teams are perimeter-oriented runs. These guys really like to go downhill at you. They’ll be a real challenge.”

On Sean Renfree’s questionable status with a head injury and if it changes planning: “If they had Maryland’s problems it’d make my job a lot easier. But they don’t have Maryland’s problems. Unfortunately, they’re pretty deep at quarterback. (Both quarterbacks) have started, they’ve both played a lot, they play virtually every game. You don’t see a level of dropoff. Last week (A 48-7 loss at Florida State) was not indicative of the success they’ve had and what they’re capable of. We’ve all been there as coaches where everything works just right for you, playing at home, a lot of emotion goes your way, the kicking game’s clicking, offense, defense, you can overwhelm people if you’ve got a talented team like Florida State does. That’s not reflective of the team we’ll see this Saturday. I know that for sure.”

On getting more push in the pass rush over the last 2 games (7 sacks): “I’d say so. We’re still asking for more. But that’s definitely improved. Some people aren’t allowing you to get (to the passer) by getting rid of the ball quick or running seven-man protections, or seven against five and running three-man routes. There’s give and take. Sometimes maybe the pressure hasn’t been there and that’s a reason why. It depends on teams’ offensive philosophy in regards to protection. There are a lot of variables that go into it.”

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