|by David Hood|
All of that was accomplished with State trotting out exotic formations and packages that safety Travis Blanks said “had my eyes rolling around in the back of my head.”
However, don’t expect defensive coordinator Brent Venables to get too excited about the strides his defense has made, not when there is still work to be done.
"We’ve made a lot of strides in a lot of areas. Still got a long ways to go,” Venables said Tuesday in the WestZone. “I love the attitude of the guys and their willingness to fight and handle adversity well. You have to compete over and over and over. If we've been consistent about something, you've seen that. They've got a willingness to compete and invest for four quarters. We have made some improvement but we still must continue to get better at a lot of things. We've found a way to get to 3-0."
Venables said that big plays continue to plague his defense, a trend he wants to stop.
“They had a few big plays the other night. You don't want to give up any,” he said. “It's always a goal of any defense. Big plays are back breakers, momentum, field position. We're working hard to correct those mistakes. People are going to emulate success other teams have had against you, so we're trying to put those things in front of our guys. The discouraging thing about those - the jet sweeps - they're so simple. It's not a trick play. Leveraging the football is paramount to run defense. We have to do a better job of getting those guys to execute that and I believe that we will."
He did admit, however, that the defense looks better now than it did at this same time a year ago.
“You're a lot further along in a lot of different areas. Everything we've talked about all along, the things it takes, our guys are just further along,” Venables said. “There are certain things you don't feel as comfortable about and we're trying to work through those things as well. We've got a lot of things that we have to continue to get better at. But everybody does. Everybody has problems. The things you dislike are maybe the same issues, whatever that may be, and guys aren't learning from mistakes.
“That would be a concern. But this is a long season. It's always been an evolution in terms of improving and getting better. This is still a group of guys that where there's seven new starters, give or take. It's still a group trying to find itself, but I like the way they've been challenged. We've answered the bell when it's counted the most. Our guys have a great attitude and it's an intelligent group of guys."
Clemson faces a 2-2 Wake Forest team this week that has struggled at times, but still has dangerous playmakers, especially in wide receiver Michael Campanaro.
“They like to run the ball a lot of different ways. Anything that has been successful these first few weeks, we'll probably see it,” he said. “They have an experienced quarterback, running back and Campanaro is very good. That staff has done a great job of getting more out of less, getting their guys to play above and beyond their abilities. They're going to put them in competitive, winning situations. We'll get their best shot, that's for sure."
On the development of Shaq Lawson
“The more a young guy like him plays, he'll gain confidence and will gain in aggressiveness and understanding. He's more sure of himself, so he's quicker and is playing with better pad level. He's a naturally explosive, instinctive guy who can bend and change direction. He's got great natural strength. You're seeing some of his physical talent show up. He played a little timid in the first game. He played a little on his heels early, which is to be expected. He's taking these huge jumps, as you'd hope. Coach Hobby has done a fabulous job bringing him along quickly.
"He's got really good instincts. He loves to play. Not everybody loves to play. Most guys might love to make the big play but they don't love to play, believe it or not. He loves to practice. He's got ability. He can run, bend, change direction, he's explosive, he's got good instincts and natural strength. He's far from a polished product but he's got a fabulous foundation. He's got a great future."
Building depth at safety, and who he is looking to step up
"The same group of guys. We don't have a new group of guys. It'll be some guys running in the twos and threes, Jayron Kearse, Jadar Johnson, Ronnie Geoghahan, and Bashaud Breeland is also another option there potentially. Korrin Wiggins is there. It's hard to move a young guy around. This group just needs to show maturity and competitiveness and investment. When you push the envelope, you find out who's afraid and who's not. Some guys want that moment and some guys might not. It's difficult and challenging to invest every single day.
“The preparation that goes into it can be overwhelming. Some guys can be ready and some may not be. Safety is a lot more difficult to learn. It's like a linebacker with higher stress because you're the last line of defense. Corner is easier to play from a learning curve standpoint, but harder to play from a physical standpoint because of the unique skill set that it takes. Those guys are coming along, though."
The loss of LB Kellen Jones
"It's one less linebacker that showed the ability to step in and make plays. It's one less body. We had three at one position, now we have two. It hurts us in special teams as well. I hate it for Kellen because he's very emotionally invested in the game. That's hard when it's taken away."
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org