CLEMSON – The difference from year one to year two in Brent Venables’ system is evident.
Through four games, the Clemson defense is in the top-25 nationally in tackles for loss (4), sacks (6), three-and-outs (9), third down defense (11), forced fumbles (17), first downs allowed (22) and scoring defense (25).
In scoring defense, that’s a 38 spot improvement from this time last year, while in total defense they’re better by 55 spots (from 93rd to 38th).
“I see guys taking better angles to the football,” Venables said. “Linebackers know when they have to come over top of a blocker – based on the people around them, the front, the offensive formation and the play…You see guys playing and not thinking quite as much and improving with their understanding to become more aggressive.”
He says a common thread in the early success is consistent energy on the field.
“We’re playing with good effort. From the get-go to all the way through, our loafs have slowly diminished as well and that’s very pleasing,” said Venables. “Effort and emotion is the great equalizer and being intense and being on edge is part of the game. If you cheat the game, you get exposed pretty quick.
“I love the attitude of our guys in respecting the game and the opponent and playing the game at a high level. There is no substitute for energy and effort and focus. Through four games, our guys are showing that.”
He says the effort goes hand in hand with his players trusting each other to do their job on the field.
“Effort covers a lot of mistakes up,” Venables said. “Trusting and playing with good effort, I know this is easy. This is like stealing because you play with good effort. You’re sure of yourself and you trust call and the guy next to you.”
Watkins playing fast, having fun
Tested Tigers taking it week by week: Sammy Watkins remembers well what happened in 2011.
As a freshman, his Tigers were riding high to the BCS top-5 – and then the rarefied air for a young team became a little too thin – on the way to dropping four of the last six games.
“Everything was just going so fast and we’re 8-0 and we just thought we was on the top of the world,” Watkins said. “I don’t think we worked as hard when we got there. We thought it was going to be easy.
“Knowing now that it gets harder and teams are out for you, you can get beat by anybody not working hard. Now I think week in and week out we come ready to practice.”
With improved top-to-bottom leadership, Watkins believes the Tigers are in position for every goal set.
“Overall, I think we have the team that can be (a) national championship (contender) and break all of the records we set last year,” he said. “It’s all up to the team as a whole group to come together.
Practice tweak helping Tiger o-line: By all accounts, Clemson is deep as they’ve been on the o-line in a long time. A switch in the practice regimen has helped the group build some continuity, says left guard Kalon Davis.
“Over time being in the system understanding how things work, we definitely have a lot more tangibles and calls we can make now because we’re starting to understand the system now,” Davis said. “I think it really helps that we now have a (practice) period where the offensive line, tight ends and running backs just do blitz pickup.
“We have another segment where it’s just the quarterback and offensive line doing hot reads and pickups.”
That will be tested this week facing a pressure-heavy Syracuse team that ranks in the top-25 in sacks (24th) and tackles for loss (23).
First impression: Clemson gets its first crack at new divisional foe Syracuse on the road. All-time, that hasn’t worked out great for the Tigers.
Stretching back as far as 1953, Clemson is 3-4 on the road against new ACC opponents and 5-7 overall.
They’ve lost the last two against new conference members in 2005 (Boston College – 16-13 OT) and 2006 (Virginia Tech – 24-7).