CLEMSON — Brent Venables is new to the ACC, but he’ll have a bit of an edge this week. Clemson’s first-year defensive coordinator faced off with Florida State the past two seasons while running Oklahoma’s defense, and had plenty of success, winning both matchups. Venables spoke about the improved Seminoles’ offense, where his defense stands after three games and more with reporters Tuesday.
On knowledge of FSU helping out this week: all?
I think it’s just affirmation that they’re a very talented team. A lot of experience. Coach (Jimbo) Fisher does a great job of calling plays and putting them into position to be successful. So you have that kind of familiarity with them. It’s certainly better than not knowing anything, coming in blind, that’s for sure.
Having been in the venue down there last year, it’ll be the same type of setting. Fantastic atmosphere, very intense atmosphere, and a lot will be on the line. That’s exciting, the challenge of it, thinking about it. A lot of coaches and players play in this profession and don’t have the opportunity to be on that kind of stage. And it’s very, very exciting.
How do you manage emotions in a game like this: “It’s like any game. You coach them all the same, to be honest. There’s a certain level of expectation, you’re looking for execution and you’re looking for guys staying focused and playing within the confines of the system. For me personally it doesn’t change as far as the opponent goes.”
On preparing for Florida State’s challenges with the option or the vertical game: “You recruit players, you try to recruit the biggest, strongest, fastest at every position, and they’ve got them all. They’ve got a monopoly on them. Well, most of them. The margin for error is very little when you play an opponent like Florida State.”
On fixing the errors and saying after Furman that FSU might “break the scoreboard” if mistakes continued: “Well, we’ll see. Every game presents its set of challenges and is unique to itself. I think our guys recognize the things we need to improve at their positions. Every week’s different. You’d like to see progress in the areas we need to make progress. And the biggest thing in the explosive plays. As you’re trying to piece things together and improve on all the little things, explosive plays set you back, and it’s one of the key factors when you play the game, who has the most explosive plays. Sometimes you can lose that battle against a lesser opponent and still win the game. But against evenly matched teams it’s going to be a huge deciding factor.
How confident? We’ll see. I’m excited about seeing our guys put in the work this week and our coaches putting them in position to be successful, and going down there and executing.”
On stopping the run: “You’re handicapped if you can’t stop the run. That’s any defensive coordinator’s challenge, just to play good defense and be strong up front and up the middle of your defense. When you’re not where you need to be, that makes things very difficult.
“That’ll be the challenge this week, to play more consistently and be the more physical team. You’ve got to tackle when you get there, and they’re playing really well right now. The backs, the line, it looks like they’ve got good chemistry and cohesion up front. Not turning people free. And they’re well-coached. (OL coach) Rick Trickett’s got a very strong reputation about developing players and they’re developing great ones down there. And they have great players, too. But just because you have great players doesn’t mean they’re going to play great. You’ve got to coach them, too.”
On Florida State’s option: “I think that’s probably the exception to the norm these days with the spread offense if you don’t have some option involved with your offense. That’s one more challenge they present. I think that’s why they’re successful, and they’re a top-5 team in the country. I don’t even know what their stats are. I watch them on tape, they’re pretty good, and we’re going to have to play really well Saturday night. They have a lot of issues they present you with – their ability to throw it, their ability to get on top of you, and their ability to take a handoff in the A-gap and go 70. They’ve got a great stable of weapons.”
Q: Last year you limited them (to 13 points with Oklahoma. ) What do you remember about that outing?
On what he remembers about last year’s meeting with FSU: “We played like a team. It was a hostile environment and we managed the game well. We complemented each other. There were turnovers on both sides, three-and-outs on both sides of the ball. Our guys were really resilient. It was a slugfest, street match. Great players on both sides slugging it out in a great atmosphere.
“We forced turnovers and ran one back to the 3 to set up a score. Losing their quarterback was probably a factor in the game, let’s face it. But we knew in preparation, and (Clint) Trickett comes in and throws their lone touchdown pass on a third-and-forever. He’s a talented young guy. I thought our guys played tough-minded and physical. We made a few more big plays than they did.”
On impressions of E.J. Manuel as a passer: “He’s good and gotten better each year. This will be the third year I’ve faced him, and he’s got a big arm and can throw it with great velocity, can throw it forever. He throws the short and intermediate balls with great accuracy. And they do a good job on their play-action game, protecting things up. They’ll get you to double-move, which will get you to have poor discipline, have bad eyes, and they’ll get over the top of you as well.”
On Clemson’s past struggles against mobile QBs: “There are moments in the game you have to do certain things a different way. You have to maintain good rush lanes. The thing about a guy like (Manuel) is, like a guy like a Vince Young or Jake Locker, sometimes the worst thing you can do is cover everybody. They can pull it down and make big plays that way.
“I don’t think we’ll have any problem with that, not covering people (smiles). …. It’s a joke guys, relax. If anybody ought to be mad about it, it’s me. It’s a big weapon for them. They’re smart, he’s well-schooled and mature enough to understand when it’s not there, not to force it and to use good strengths. We’ve got to be aware of it.”
On senior safety Rashard Hall not playing as much as he did in last three years: “I don’t know what he did or didn’t do his first three years. (Xavier) Brewer had earned his way by being more consistent in what we were asking him to do. But Rashard has played more and more each week, and the proverbial rust, he’s knocking it off. Hadn’t played in quite a while. And it’s one thing to have your head buried in the playbook, it’s another to go out and do it.
“Brewer had three months of drill work and practice ahead of Rashard. He’s just a little bit better and more consistent in the beginning of the year…. I think we’ve seen a trend where he’s played more and more and we’re finding ways he’s getting more involved. You have to go out and practice well, and again, he’s come in and done some good things and done some not-so-good things. He’s in a long line of guys who’ve been right there. I think he’s getting more comfortable and you’ll see him along with some other guys out there. It’s going to take everyone (Saturday). We’re not deep.”
On Florida State returning to the FSU of the 90s: “They are better than they were a year ago, just my evaluation. Sometimes just because you’re a year older and more mature doesn’t make you a better team. But it looks like they’ve got more playmakers and a more mature group of skill players. Still a relatively young offensive line that’s talented, but they’re playing at a high level. And complementing a great offense is a great defense. Mark (Stoops) has done a terrific job and they’ve gotten better each year he’s been there. But they have as good of players as there is anyone in the country on both sides of the ball, and they’re coaching them really well. That’s what you see from them right now, a mature team that’s playing with purpose, knows what they’re doing and is very aggressive in their approach on both sides of the ball.”
On FSU’s running game, and whether its success goes with Manuel and Chris Thompson’s health: “I think they’ve been productive when they’ve been healthy. But I just think they’re blocking better, probably with some better players who they’ve improved with recruiting and development. That doesn’t just happen overnight. I’m not sure how many years coach Fisher has been there, maybe his fourth year, but you’ve seen marked improvement each year. It’s not surprising to see the level they’re playing at. They’re successful throwing the ball as well, so their run and pass combination is enabling both phases to higher execution and better results.”
On FSU’s receivers: “They’re explosive. They’re fast. They catch the ball well. They know how to get open. They do a great job of attacking you and are very aggressive in their approach. They’re not the nickel-and-dime throwing operations you see a lot of teams have this day and age. They’re going to come early and often and try going over the top.”
On Tony Steward’s showing in the second half against Furman: “I was happy to see him go out and have some success. I wasn’t part of the recruitment and certainly wasn’t part of the injury and all the things that go with that. Certainly there is a lot of pain and suffering, both mentally and physically, that go along with (two ACL tears). It’s not easy to overcome once, let alone twice. I was glad to see him have an opportunity to go out and play. The more he plays, the better he’ll get. He has a long ways to go. But to see him go out and have some success, by the end of the year it’s going to pay off for us.”
On the next step for Steward getting comfortable: “Sure. Because he hadn’t hardly played at all. He had to start over because he didn’t play as a true freshman. He’s learning a new system, let alone all the injury things. Lack of experience. He might as well have just gotten out of high school, as far as I look at him. Where does he go? I would expect improvement along the way with some minor setbacks. With maturation, every guy is different. It’s a process. Sometimes they play like a first-round draft pick in their first year and sometimes it takes them three years, sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Maybe sometimes they’re just a good college player. And they never become a ‘superstar.’ I can’t really predict. He’s a great kid, he loves to play the game, has great humility, doesn’t mind working, you can coach him hard. And he has a good perspective on where he is, what he needs to get better at. He doesn’t have this thing where he’s over impressed with himself. He’s got a good perspective on things. That allows him to grow.”
On Quandon Christian’s strong game: “It helps us overall at that position, competition does wonderful things. You can make guys run, make them go to extra study hall, punish them in all sorts of ways, but there’s nothing like playing time. And it’ll grab their attention real quick. We’re going to recognize your performance. If we have another better option, you better be on alert. It gives you more flexibility, the more playmakers you have who are ready to play. Hopefully if their skill set allows you to play multiple positions, they’ll be able to do so. That’ll be something we look at.”