Clemson's defense grows up against Texas A&M


by - Staff Writer -
Xavier Thomas shows his emotions Saturday.
Xavier Thomas shows his emotions Saturday.

CLEMSON – Brent Venables’ defense grew up a lot Saturday.

Top-ranked Clemson entered the season having to replace several key players from all three levels of the defense, and many wondered how many growing pains the defense would have to endure. The only pain Saturday was the kind delivered to the Texas A&M offense.

The Tigers gave up over 500 yards of offense to Texas A&M last season, but Venables played more coverage – including three safeties on the field at times and dime looks – as Clemson held A&M to just 289 total yards.

“We've done a lot of dime package throughout the years. We've had it every year, just different tweaks and versions of it. That part was good today,” Venables said. “It's an experienced group that I think a year ago three of the first four and if you count Isaiah (Simmons) four of the top five guys were starting their first college game on the road. As the season grew, it's a group that's got talent and length and pride as much as anything.

“Just didn't like the rhetoric all offseason because they played really well for a good part of that game and we didn't play a few series back-to-back-to-back really well a year ago. I think they're grown men that work their butts off and have a lot of pride. They took a lot of things that are being talked about to heart.”

The defense didn’t give up a touchdown until under 10 seconds were left on the clock.

“That might've been our first real bust - our first missed assignment - all night because we're supposed to have somebody on that guy. Proud of our guys,” Venables said. “They really had a great performance and played with a great focus and passion and a sense of desperation. We were physical at all three levels. The d-line just stoned them. For the most part, we really tackled well. We hit the quarterback a lot tonight and affected him. Really proud of that leadership.

“It's a group that we're still young. We've got a bunch of newbies too who are growing up every day. Any time you can play in a game and gain experience whether you have some failure or you have success, all of that is part of that growth. It's a long season and we're going to have to have a different mentality. Going on the road is a different deal.”

Venables continued to say that last year’s win at Texas A&M didn’t sit well with his defense.

“A year ago, we didn't play great in that last quarter-and-a-half. We should've slammed the door by halftime and we missed some opportunities to do that as a football team a year ago. Any time you let a good team hang around - and we did it a little bit tonight - and they've got a good team, they can get into a rhythm and get you on your heels,” he said. “That group a year ago and came back despite that performance and became the No. 1 scoring defense in college football. I say that because there are guys who are good players on our defense but they know how to win, they know how to perform at a high level and have a tremendous amount of pride, too.

“They have a lot of ownership too. It's not like we live in 'La La Land' and act like we didn't talk about, it never happened or it's fake news. No, that happened, it did happen and we wanted to leave no doubt. Whether or not we did, that's for everybody else. For us, we had a heck of a performance. I'm really proud of the work they put in and it was fun to watch. Our guys played with great confidence tonight. We were very precise for the most part and we handled the game. There were some in-game adjustments. They had a whole offseason to come up with things that aren't on tape and our guys adjust to them well. It all starts upfront and I thought those guys did a tremendous job.”

Venables said he thinks his defense grew up a little bit Saturday night. Or, at the very least, earned a passing grade.

“I think it's all part of it. Handling the success will be a big deal. Going on the road is another mentality and test for them. They passed and get passing grades. Just a really, really good performance. They've worked hard,” he said. “We've been so hard on these guys. We have not let them breathe one ounce and the coaches have really worked hard in developing the fundamentals and foundation. The schemes are no good if your fundamentals and techniques stink. Your understanding, eye discipline and all of those things that go with it. You have to be able to play under stress with those fundamentals.

“We're better. We're not a polished product and we'll want to throw up at times watching tape but that's always been the case. We've seen some growth and part of that growth is just confidence. 'I can do it. This isn't that hard if I just go stance, alignment, assignment, key and I just have the focus and discipline to do that play after play, all of the plays come to me and I don't have to try to make plays.' It was good.”

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