Venables' defense gets spark with return of Skalski and Davis

by - Senior Writer -
Tyler Davis (13) made his presence known early. (Photo courtesy ACC)
Tyler Davis (13) made his presence known early. (Photo courtesy ACC)

CLEMSON - Brent Venables had his core guys back Saturday, and it showed in what was a stellar defensive effort against Pitt.

Defensive tackle Tyler Davis, linebacker Mike Jones, Jr., and linebacker James Skalski all returned to the lineup after missing time with injuries. Davis made his presence known early with a tipped pass that turned into an interception, and Skalski led the team with six tackles.

Clemson held Pitt to just 246 total yards, including a measly 16 rushing yards. Clemson tallied a season-high six sacks on veteran quarterback Kenny Pickett and wound up with eight tackles for loss, all while holding the Panthers to just 3.7 yards per play. The Tigers also intercepted Pickett four times.

"That was one of our better performances probably in the last couple of years, all things considered,” Venables said after the game. “Experienced team like Pitt. Kenny Pickett is playing really, really well. Had a few guys starting for the first time.

"Most excited about establishing the line of scrimmage and disrupting the flow of their offense, creating turnovers. Just got into a great rhythm early. Our preparation has been outstanding. A lot of guys that are hungry. A lot of guys banged-up fighting like heck to get back on the field. Guys like Ray Thornton, Malcolm Greene, Mario Goodrich -- starting their first college game tonight and coming up big. Got a chance to play 94 guys.”

Venables said he feels like his group might peak at the right time.

"Really getting into a great rhythm here down the stretch run,” Venables said. “Talked the last time we met with the media, just said we saw some incremental improvement both during the off week and as the season has gone one. That's what the best players and units do, they find a way to get better."

Freshman defensive back Malcolm Greene saw his first extensive action and registered three tackles, his first career interception, and a pass broken up.

"Malcolm played extensively at our nickel spot. Played really well. Just was terrific,” Venables said. “Wanted to be able to take advantage of Malcolm's skill set. We knew if we lost one corner tonight, we'd probably have to pull him from nickel and put him at corner."

The key to it all, however, was the return of guys like Skalski and Davis. Both had not played since the win over Miami on October 10th. Venables was asked when he knew he would have both defenders available, and he said it wasn’t until earlier this week. He then said it would have been hard to keep Skalski off the field on Senior Day, especially since his backup, Jake Venables, didn’t dress for the game.

“Probably on Tuesday (is when he knew). I don't think Tyler Davis took his first live rep until Wednesday. Jamie is probably a couple weeks early, but this guy absolutely loves to play,” Venables said. “You weren't going to keep him off the field. Very thankful for his love for his teammates and Clemson. Meant a lot for him to get back out on Senior Day."

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