Clemson has learned from last year's defensive breakdown


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Venables talks to the media Saturday in Tampa
Venables talks to the media Saturday in Tampa

TAMPA, FL – Clemson’s defense has shouldered a lot of the blame for last season’s loss to Alabama in the National Championship, but Brent Venables’ group learned a lot from the failures of last season.

Whether it’s staying committed for 15 games or covering the tight end, Venables told the media at Saturday’s media day that Clemson’s defense will be better prepared when they take the field Monday night against Alabama at Raymond James Stadium.

“Hopefully, we play with better discipline. I think that we've shown our body of work through 14 games as we played more disciplined, a lot less explosive plays on the year, and it's night and day to what we were a year ago,” Venables said. “So I think better understanding, better discipline, a little bit better focus. I think our team, this has been a very low maintenance team to coach, been a lot of fun. Just very few distractions and it's a group of guys that have great humility, let you coach them hard, and they get the big picture. I think that they want it every bit as much as us as coaches and fans.”

Venables said Alabama’s offense is unlike any offense the Tigers have faced this season because they are complete – a good offensive line, a running game and a passing game.

“No, just because I think they have a completeness that we haven't seen. They've got a great deal of experience on defense as well, and then the best collection of skill that we've seen on offense and the best offensive tackle we've seen this year,” he said. “Just I don't really need to go on and praise them like they deserve, but I think everybody understands that they got a great football team and they've got as much confidence, if not more than anybody in the country, and they're playing in an aggressive manner, a physical manner, and they've been there, done that. Like I said, they've been the standard in college football that we all aspire to be, and we're building towards that.”

Alabama may have a few new wrinkles in its offensive game plan after Steve Sarkisian took over for former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin on Monday.

“Again, I think he's a west coast type of guy, likes to run the football, get the ball to his playmakers, attack you vertically. He's going to move, jump, trade, shift, motion, all those things,” Venables said. “And he's going to try to help his guys to have success. He's had incredible success as a play caller, as an offensive coach, as a head coach, and so he's going to -- again, he's a smart guy that knows how to use the weapons they have. They're three-deep at running back.

“They're terrific players, have got the best skill we've seen on the outside, including their tight end. And, again, a freshman that's playing out of his mind with the kind of defense and the kicking game that they have. So they've got a complete team and I'm sure that he's well aware of how he needs to utilize, again, the players that he does without wholeheartedly changing everything.”

However, Venables and Clemson’s defensive coaches won’t spend a ton of time chasing down Southern California and Washington info because at the end of the day, Alabama is still going to be Alabama.

“A little bit. A little background work. Whether it's people that have played against him and things of that nature. But you don't want to over-think it either,” he said. “You got to line up, you know, stance alignment assignment. You got to stay on top of things, you got to tackle, you got to get off of blocks and play aggressive and not try to, again, out-think yourself too.

“Yeah, a little bit. Again, you don't want to chase ghosts either. They're back in the national championship game, and their players are their players. They've got a great system. I don't think that Lane and Steve are on two different planets offensively and philosophically. My understanding is that there's been involvement this year, and so I think there's already some influence that way with Steve having been there.

“But, again, we're going to do what we do, and they're going to do what they do. They'2re going to get the ball and the guys that can make plays. I'll run out of fingers and toes if you want me to. I'll go down and start listing them, starting with those three running backs and, again, Ridley and Stewart and 88 had a career day. So they're going to get those guys the ball whether it's vertically or it's a quick screen or some kind of a double move or wheel routes, things of that nature. Those things aren't going to change.”

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