Cram Session: Venables back at QB as Tech prep begins


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Venables will play the part of Tech quarterback Justin Thomas this week
Venables will play the part of Tech quarterback Justin Thomas this week

Sunday begins the next installment of Brent Venables’ quarterback career.

Clemson’s defensive coordinator loves to play the part of scout team quarterback when his defense has to face an offense that relies on the option or misdirection, and he played that part to perfection when Clemson played at Auburn in week one.

This week, Venables will share those duties with freshman Zerrick Cooper as the Tigers begin preparations for Thursday night’s ACC opener at Georgia Tech. The Tigers and option-oriented Jackets kick off at 7:30 p.m. in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN.

“Typically Brent (Venables) likes to be the quarterback because he wants to control the tempo. I don't know how much that helps us, but it helps us because he knows exactly what he wants,” Swinney said. “Zerrick Cooper will be our quarterback as far as our scout team QB goes and he'll be the guy. Usually, at the beginning of the week, Brent likes to teach the scout quarterback as he's installing our defense.

“We've got a quick turnaround. We've got to refocus. We've got a tough task ahead with an undefeated Georgia Tech team up in Atlanta. We're looking forward to it. We've got practice here in just a little bit, and we'll see if we can get them refocused on the task at hand.”

Clemson will practice Sunday evening and cram their usual game prep into three condensed days, but the Tigers were able to rest several players during the game against State and should be fresh for Tech.

“It just worked out that way. You never really know when you get in the game how it's going to go,” Swinney said. “I think it's great that Christian Wilkins and Carlos Watkins only played 12 plays. I think that part of it is good that we got through the game relatively healthy and played so many guys. It was a definitive plus. I think Georgia Tech dominated their game as well and played a lot of people. It works out well on a short week.

"Today is kind of a hybrid Monday/Tuesday-type practice. Tomorrow is kind of a combined, Tuesday-Wednesday practice. Tuesday is kind of like a typical Thursday practice for us. We'll travel on Wednesday and have our normal Friday-type game prep on Wednesday and travel to Atlanta. We'll have our Friday night routine up there and our typical 7:30 pm kickoff routine on Saturdays, we'll execute on Thursday. Players will have Friday and Saturday off to regroup and the coaches will be on the road recruiting and taking advantage of a little time to see if we can get our team better."

Swinney said the Tigers won’t spend much time on the win over the Bulldogs and will quickly turn all of their attention to the Jackets.

“We've got a quick turnaround so we'll move on pretty quick from this one. It was really a fun game for our guys and fun to watch,” he said. “The goal for our team was to put a complete game together. We definitely did that. The best part of the game was we played so many people and got a lot of guys some very good quality experience. They continued played pretty well, too. It's really hard to get a shutout. It's not just the defense. It's the offense taking care of the ball. It's special teams creating field position and taking care of the ball as well in modern day football, that's a hard thing to do, so I applaud our guys on that.”

The Tigers shut out the Bulldogs, giving up just 104 total yards in what Swinney calls a dominant performance.

“Defensively, we gave up one run of 12 yards or more and one pass of 16+ yards or more, he said. “It was a very, very dominant performance. We had two turnovers - the interception and the fumble in the endzone on the kickoff coverage - six sacks, seven three-and-outs, dominated third down and four pass breakups It was just a really good game defensively.”

Swinney said the offense did what it needed to do to set the tone early in the contest.

“Offensively we picked up where we left off in the fourth quarter against Troy. That was one thing I was wanting to see. We scored three straight drives - touchdown, touchdown, field goal - to finish up the Troy game and we picked up and scored the most points ever in a quarter in that first quarter,” he said. “I'm really pleased with how our guys played and stared the game and the balance we had in the game. We were really able to establish the run game with 5.3 a carry. Deshaun Watson was 80-percent. We played five quarterbacks and we were 27-of-35 passing. We threw and caught like we were capable of. We only had one punt in the game, no sacks on the offensive line, no turnovers, 100-percent in the redzone and very good on third down. There were a lot of positives and played a lot of guys.”

Greg Huegel had a field goal blocked, but the Tigers scored a touchdown following a kickoff after the Bulldog returner tried to flip the ball to the official without taking a knee. Denzel Johnson pounded on the errant flip for the score.

“Special teams, it was great to see Denzel Johnson get rewarded with his effort in what we teach there covering through the goal line,” Swinney said. “They averaged 12 yards a return on kickoff return so our coverage team was very good. Very pleased with special teams three weeks in a row. Same thing with our punt return game. And then Greg Huegel with his kickoffs; he's been really good. A lot of good things in the game and a lot of guys on tape that we can coach off of and see if we can continue to improve. Players of the game were Deshaun on offense, Denzel and Ray-Ray McCloud on special teams and everybody on defense that had a winning grade.”

The entire defense – at least those with passing grades – won defensive honors.

“We awarded all of those guys on defense because it’s really difficult to get a shutout on defense, so we wanted to award those guys for that,” Swinney said.

Clemson and South Carolina State played 12 minute quarters in the second half Saturday, and Swinney said it was the idea of the game officials.

“Instead of 15 minutes we just made them 12-minute quarters,” Swinney said. “We played four quarters. It was just something the refs came to me and asked me about it. I told them I wouldn't have a problem with it. They came back to me at the start of the third quarter and said, 'Would you be okay making it 12-minute quarters this last half?' I said, 'Fine. No problem.'”

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