Having seen an eclectic range of offensive styles and schemes this season may ease the angst while preparing for the mélange Clemson anticipates from South Carolina, the proverbial kitchen sink
Brent Venables looks under every rock and worries he missed something or hasn’t armed his defense with a precaution for every variable.
After three tough weeks in which the run defense was clipped for 574 yards, Venables had a “coming to Jesus” before the Wake Forest game. The result was a defense prepared and refocused. Wake Forest was limited to 152 total yards, 39 rushing, and Venables was relieved that the progress of the first eight games hadn’t been lost.
“I think our guys responded well. Really proud of how they took it immediately,” he said.
“It makes you feel good if your guys are prepared and focused. It was clean and disciplined.
“There’s nothing more pleasing for a coach defensively other than being ultra-physical than being just disciplined.”
Clemson leaned on the defense to help negotiate the rocks on shore early in the schedule, and only Notre Dame exceeded 300 yards the first seven games. Now few teams can match Clemson’s balance. The Tigers are 14th nationally in total offense and fifth in total defense.
A year ago Venables was blessed with experience, talent and depth and Clemson was No.1. After losing nine starters, the depth wasn’t there to start but there was enough talent and experience to make it work. They expected this from Shaq Lawson, Ben Boulware, Jayron Kearse and MacKensie Alexander. But Chris Dodd has become a dynamic bookend to Lawson, B.J. Goodson grew up and embraced the role of defensive quarterback, T.J. Green with Kearse gives them two pterodactyls at safety and with offenses throwing away from Alexander’s side of the field Cordrea Tankersley become a playmaker at corner.
“I don’t think we can achieve our goals if we don’t play well,” he said. “Doesn’t mean we have to play perfect, but we have to play well.
“That’s very important down the stretch as you play better and better teams.”
While there’s always a chance South Carolina might roll out something Venables hasn’t seen, there’s simplicity in its multiplicity, and when the ball goes to Pharoh Cooper hearts accelerate.
Cooper’s 62 receptions are more than the other Carolina receivers – combined -- and he nearly pulled off a miracle in The Citadel game, but his 94-yard touchdown in the final minute was called back for a formation infraction. From a wildcat formation he’s a threat as a runner and a passer.
“When Pharoh Cooper gets in there he’s incredibly dynamic, probably the single most dynamic player we’ll see all year,” Venables said. “We’ve got great respect for him.
“He wears his toughness on his sleeve. I think if he had his way he’d play defense, too.
“I love how he plays the game.”
Quarterback Lorenzo Nunez has that kind of dynamism, Venables said, capable of ignite the fire with his quickness, but Perry Orth is the more polished passer and Venables has seen him grow into the job.
“They don’t do just a few things,” he said, “But I don’t think they need the kitchen sink to beat us.
“Hopefully our guys are prepared to play with the discipline it takes whether it’s the kitchen sink or the zone read with the pop pass off of it.”
Venables was feeling better about the defense after the Wake Forest game. An interception by Tankersley off a gimmick play Clemson had identified during the week was indicative of their thorough preparation.
“They don’t need all that to beat you,” Venables said of South Carolina. “We probably won’t stop much of that stuff, the trickery, but I feel we have a good chance.
“You’ve got to have guys doing their job. If you do you’ll play well. If you don’t, then they can have you on your heels real quick.”
Venables believes his guys understand what’s a stake this week and going forward.
“We haven’t done as well as we needed to do in this game. It’s another opportunity for us to take another step as a program and obviously get us to our ultimate goal,” he said. “They may not be having the type of year they like, but they’ll show up I assure you and be ready to play.”
Tigers vs. Gamecocks
Who: Clemson (11-0) at South Carolina (3-8)
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
Line: Clemson by 17.5