Clemson's 2013 defense is enjoying its second spring.
Surrounded by many of the players who capped an 11-win 2012 season by holding LSU to a single yard in the fourth quarter and recorded eight three-and-outs, coordinator Brent Venables stepped on the practice field two weeks ago feeling that the Tiger defense was already ahead of the game.
Bowl practice can be tricky business, but for Venables and the Tigers it was all-business.
"Bowl practice was like another spring ball for us," said Venables during a signing day interview with Clemson's official website. "We were able to get back to the fundamentals of technique, and it was just affirmation of everything we've been talking about since we got here - the physicality that it takes to play."
Venables said the Tigers' dozen practices provided "an ah-ha moment" for his players.
"To play great defense, it all starts up front," he said. "I think LSU was a great match-up for a lot of different reasons, but I think first, we had to show up in all those areas to have a chance to win the game. It was like an ah-ha moment for our guys. It doesn't need to be overly complicated. We were very productive getting the most out of our guys.
"Sometimes that's the case, and sometimes that's not the case in bowl preparation. Sometimes you have to fight going through the motions, because guys just want to get to the game and don't have the same sense of purpose in practices. Our guys were really engaged."
With the 70-33 Orange Bowl debacle against West Virginia still nagging, and a sub-par performance against South Carolina fresh on their minds, the Tigers were motivated to perform at a higher level. That determination was reinforced by the way the coaches structured practice, Venables said.
"We didn't overkill, but when we did practice, it was very competitive," he said. "We tackled, and it was like another spring ball. There was some risk involved, but we just felt like there were a number of things we needed to improve, and I think it showed."