CLEMSON – Distractions…there will be a few of them between now and Saturday and then on gameday.
Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables isn’t one for that being an excuse come 8 o’clock Saturday night.
He also won’t be watching College GameDay’s emanating live from Bowman Field either.
“Keeping the focus is the biggest thing. Not allowing the outside distractions (effect you),” Venables said Tuesday. “Whatever (Lee) Corso picks for a mascot head doesn’t matter. It has zero effect. Unless you’re somebody that’s glued to it and you’re going to live and die in that stage.
Venables: Georgia won't be fazed
“To me that’s where it becomes catastrophic.”
Asked if Georgia will have any issues dealing with the atmosphere in Death Valley, Venables says this stage is a familiar one for both – a regular season game is really just a regular season game, where they’re all important.
“You’re not talking about either program being a 1-AA that’s going on the road for its three big games,” said Venables. “They’re used a big stage. Players are used to it and players are used to it on both sides. You ask Chad Morris about playing in the state championship and you come from a competitor standpoint – you can’t say one was bigger than the other.”
The season is the step-by-step process to the championship stage.
“To me, there is a championship at stake,” Venables said, “then you can say this is what you are in the game for, but you can’t get that without winning. Whether you’re playing Georgia or S.C. State – you got to win them. They’ve been in the big games and to me, I wouldn’t expect Georgia to flinch.
“They’re going to come in here and compete with everything they’ve got and play confident. But so should we. We’ve earned that right.
The spot to watch is undoubtedly the mix of vets and youth in the Clemson secondary. Asked if it’s going to “take a few games” for them to come together – breaking in two new safeties, a freshman starting nickelback (Korrin Wiggins) and a couple players back from injury:
“I hope not,” Venables answered with an exasperated look. “You wish you had everybody through all fall camp to get a really true evaluation, but you don’t. Some guys are still hurt that we felt would be in the mix. We do feel like we have the best guys in the position as of today.”
The season will shake that up as it goes though.
“I would expect our starting 11 today won’t be the same as our starting 11 in 12 games,” Venables said. “Despite injury, we’ll see though. That’s just been my experience. You hire and fire guys throughout the season.
“Sometimes it’s because you’re challenging guys or they’re not playing as hard or smart or sometimes you’re a dummy as a coach. Believe it or not, sometimes that’s the case.”
Sammy Watkins hopes to follow Nuk’s lead: “You've gotta go out and have a better season than I had last year,” DeAndre Hopkins’ text sent to Sammy Watkins said.
The former Tiger and current Houston Texans receiver left the school after setting Clemson records in receptions in a game (13), receiving yards (1,405) and touchdowns (18) in a season and much more career marks by the end of 2012.
Not exactly an easy standard to reach, but Watkins accepts the challenge.
“Those are my goals that I have to work towards to be a complete receiver,” he said. “He had a dominant year as a receiver last year and that’s what I want to accomplish this year. Capture all those goals.”
Getting there starts with the connection with Tajh Boyd, which he used to the tune of a then Clemson record 1,219 receiving yards and 12 scores in 2011 as a freshman.
“My freshman year he was throwing at me whether I had two or three guys on me,” Watkins said.
Last year, that wasn’t the case, naturally – a combination of sitting the first two games, injuries and extra gameplanning from defenses.
Helping him get back to form, aiming for those records…is Hopkins.
Clemson v. UGa a offensive showdown
Experience on both sides
“We’re talking and texting every day going over the things that we need to work on,” Watkins said. “The things that I need to work on is going up for the ball and being that every-down receiver and that’s the things he’s working on.
“Being physical and blocking and being a dominant receiver is blocking. He tells me every day those guys in the NFL don’t care about who can catch. Everybody can catch. Work on doing a lot of blocking and running off the ball and not tipping off the defense that I’m not getting the ball.”
Watkins says it’s all working towards a breakout for the entire passing game this season.
“I feel very comfortable where we’re at,” he said. “We still have a lot to work on, but this time, I feel like we’re back on that page. I think we can go out there and make big plays with all of the receivers.”