CLEMSON — Even after No.11 Clemson had finished off last week’s 52-27 rout of Ball State, Josh Watson wasn’t very pleased.
The Tigers’ sophomore defensive tackle saw Ball State backs run up the middle and around the ends on Clemson’s defense. He saw the stat sheet that said the Cardinals had piled up an entirely unacceptable 252 yards rushing.
It wasn’t good enough.
“I don’t like it at all,” Watson said. “We scored 50-some points, but I was still unhappy after the game. It’s testing your manhood. Someone running right up the middle, that’s unacceptable, no matter who it is.”
Clemson is 2-0 entering Saturday’s 3 p.m. game against FCS foe Furman, but rush defense has raised a major red flag. Two weeks in, the Tigers are allowing 216 rushing yards per game, 98th in FBS.
That problem, Watson said, will be fixed – this week.
“We’re a young team, that’s no excuse,” he said. “We know our job, we’ve got to do our job. There’s no excuse for not knowing our job, so I think you’ll start to see it this week. This many rushing yards allowed on us these first two games, and I’m tired of reading about it and hearing about it.”
New defensive coordinator Brent Venables knows the rush defense needs to get better in a hurry.
“It’s important to improve,” he said. “The competition is only going to continue to improve as well, and we’ve got to get better. Let’s face it, we can’t continue to let people run the ball at five or six yards a clip and think we’re going to be any good. It just doesn’t work that way.”
With only one senior – defensive end Malliciah Goodman – on the line, this group is largely learning on the job.
Venables says his players know what to do – it’s just a matter of doing it.
“I don’t think it’s an, ‘Oh!’ It’s the discipline,” he said. “They come back and say, ‘Well, I thought,’ but they lined up just that much too wide, and they’re at a poor entry angle into the box and now they can’t tackle as well, they don’t get their hips in front of the ball. Just little things.”
“After I get through with a play, I run through the play in my mind, I can tell you exactly what I did wrong,” he said. “Or looking at the film I can tell you before (defensive tackles) coach (Dan) Brooks even gets to it, and write down exactly what he’s going to write down on the play. They’re not like mental errors, just little technique things that’ll help the defense be more stout, be a wall instead of gaping holes here and there. We’ve got to get into the film room, get on the practice field and correct mistakes.”
When Watson watches film, he sees gap control issues – perhaps his hips are turned the wrong way, creating a small seam in a walled-off defense for a tailback to scoot through.
“The offense is looking for one crease, one mess-up,” he said. “If you don’t do your job, the running back’s going to find that hole, and they did Saturday. Those are things we have to get corrected. It’s not talent, it’s just us doing our job.”
Venables believes his defense can do it. It’s just a matter of doing so down-in, and down-out, creating a suffocating run scheme.
“27 of (Ball State’s) 40 rushing attempts went for four yards or less. That shows to me they can do it,” he said. “But if you do it once you have to be able to do it over and over. They show it’s not a lack of talent. That’s our job, responsibility as coaches to get our guys to a level where they can make plays. It’s such simple concepts, but guys try to do too much. At the end of the day you can’t do that.”