CLEMSON — Brent Venables isn’t losing his patience. Despite a defense which was torched by Florida State for 667 yards of total offense Saturday night and statistics that rank firmly in the bottom half of the ACC and among the nation’s worst, the Tigers’ first-year defensive coordinator projected an optimistic front Tuesday.
He discussed what Clemson must do to improve, where the Tigers are falling short, the lack of pass rush and run defense, personnel changes and leadership, among other things, during his weekly chat with reporters. An edited version of it follows below.
On improvement: “We’ve got some talent there, they have great wiliness to learn, get better, recognize what shortcomings are. All of us have shown that responsibility. We recognize we do have a great football team. If we can work on the things we can control, the times we’ve shown we can control them we’re going to have a terrific season.
Venables: Great defenses are disruptive upfront
“On the flip side, if we don’t improve, things can make a drastic change. We have a sense of renewal. Good or bad, week to week, you’ve got to be able to shelve it, learn it and go from there. Each week is its own entity and you’ve got to play well, process in how you play well. If you deviate from that process, you’re not going to play well. At least you won’t have a chance to play well. We’ve got to give ourselves that chance and go full speed ahead. There’s a strong mental approach you have to take. You have to again, as players and coaches, you can’t be fragile in how you think. You have to be confident in the situation and understand of what it takes to play well. You can’t deviate from that, because they’re looking for that. Are you going to change full course, change your message, or are you that model of consistency in your approach and what you demand, and you’ve got to continue to demand those things.”
On improving the run game and disappointment in it: “Absolutely, no doubt about it. Without question. It needs to happen. I’m frustrated and disappointed. I’d like to think so, moreso than anybody. But there’s no question that we can. I expect that we will.
“(The mistakes) are correctable. The foundation, the fundamentals of playing the game and really it’s any game. When you (have) shortcomings there, one guy isn’t doing it, you step the wrong way or get your head out of your gap, have bad eyes, you thought something happened that didn’t happen. So many different changing parts, whether there’s discipline or something where you just get beat, too. I’m not one to act like that everything that happened negative for Clemson was just us and not FSU. That’s completely disrespectful to FSU and the kind of team they have. That’s the margin for error when you play good people isn’t much.
“And I thought that a number of things we did through three quarters, two and a half quarters, to give us a chance to win. Five of their last six possessions were three-and-outs on short fields or interceptions. We handled zero adversity well. We never answered the bell on defense, not one time. We couldn’t stop them, had no answers, they had all the momentum. We couldn’t get it back. So there’s a mental approach there, the toughness it takes in that situation. We’ve displayed it, displayed it in our opener against Auburn and we didn’t have it. We didn’t coach it, didn’t display it, and couldn’t come up with a stop to give us a chance.”
On the issues that have cropped up this season: “There’s fundamental issues, there’s discipline issues and they blocked us. They put a hat on a hat and they blocked us. We’ve go to get off blocks too. Goes back to fundamentals. They’re supposed to block you. There’s a guy to block everybody. Across the board, whether it’s a receiver crack blocking a safety or if it’s a linebacker with a fullback, you’ve got to play the blocks better, stay on feet, disengage, be violent on an escape when a guy’s in your hole and you’ve got a guy hanging on you, you’ve got to have violence when you escape so a guy can make a play. It isn’t OK to stay outside and I have leverage on the ball, crossface and go make a play. Sometimes you over-coach them: ‘What arm are you supposed to have free?’ ‘Well they ran the ball inside, why’d you stay out there.’ We’ve got to get off and make a play. It comes back to coaching. We’ve got to get our guys better in a lot of different areas.”
On Florida State: “We ran into a buzzsaw. At times we didn’t play well or coach well, and at times we did play well too. We did have a chance to go on the road and beat a really good team. That situation down the stretch, we didn’t respond to adversity they did. We’re 4-0, they’re 3-1.”
On the front four: “I think it goes without saying, the great defenses out there are disruptive up front. Without that you can still be good, I believe that. But the other guys have got to be really good. If they’re not disruptive every play, wreaking havoc on people… there’s not many of those around in college football or the NFL. The really good teams have (a strong front four). But the other guys have to play at a high level too. That always helps, let’s face it. It’s not there right now. Some of it is maturation, and some of it is, and some of it isn’t. It’s not there with the consistency that you like, and it’ll come the more we practice and play. Sometimes you’ve got to fail in order to grow and improve. Some guys have got to be challenged. Like everything, you want your guys to play great and you’ve got to get more out of less sometimes. At some places you’re not doing that like we need to.”
On personnel changes: “I’m disappointed in myself I didn’t get some more guys in there that were a little more fresh later. Some guys were a little fatigued, and it was obvious, we weren’t escaping some of the blocks with some of the violence or quickness, and that comes back to me. Some of the personnel things, I can get guys that have shown me I have trust in them, to get them on the field so they can stay fresh in certain situations. I thought Florida State did a good job of that. They’re built for that, got good strong depth, quality depth, not just in numbers but quality players. I need to be smarter that way.”
On leadership: “I think it’s good. I’ve not been disappointed. It would be so hard when you’re not having the kind of success that you want if you’re having character issues. And I have very little tolerance of that like most coaches do. That hasn’t been a problem whatsoever. The best teams I’ve been around have been player-driven. I like the leadership on our team.”
Willard on defensive issues, BC
On an anemic pass rush: “I think for us to continue to improve, that has to improve as well. I can go on so many things that have to improve as well. We’re getting pressure and we’re not covering to the flat, then you’ve got a problem. We can’t let people three-step all day and get behind us. We’re getting people three-stepping and they’re getting seven behind us, we’re not going to get the pressure.
“Seven on five when we do bring pressure, you can go eight, we haven’t been able to stay on top with the high safety as consistently as we need to. You can bring the whole team. It doesn’t mean that’s going to be the answer either. Starts with your (front) four. You want to get pressure from that. If that isn’t it, you bring five, if that isn’t it you bring six. That’s how the old cliché goes. When people are getting behind you, you’re giving up easy scores, that the dilemma you’re in. When people are having success running on you too, you bring edge pressure which should contain a jet sweep that goes for 64, you can play on your heels. We’ve got to get better at developing that front four and getting them better. I think they will. There’s youth there and they need to keep playing, doing the same things at practice as far as development. There’s a lot of changing parts that help that development too. “