Defense couldn't get off the field on third down

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Clemson’s defense couldn’t seem to get off the field Saturday night, a key factor in Clemson’s 27-17 loss to arch-rival South Carolina, and the numbers were startling.

South Carolina possessed the ball for almost 40 minutes of the game, converted 11of-21 third down opportunities and its only fourth down opportunity as backup quarterback Dylan Thompson – starting in place of injured starter Connor Shaw – looked like a Heisman candidate against Clemson’s defense.

Thompson completed 23-of-41 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 14 times for 38 yards (he was sacked four times for minus-30 yards) as the Gamecocks controlled the clock and the game for much of the final three quarters.

In all, South Carolina rolled up 444 total yards of offense, including 134 on the ground, and had 26 first downs, with Thompson keeping many of the drives alive with either his feet or finding checkdown receivers wide open in the flat.

On third down, the Tigers were not only unable to stop the Gamecocks, the numbers were ugly in terms of the amount of yards the Gamecocks were able to gain when faced with a third down of longer than five yards – 19 yards, 19 yards, 19 yards, 34 yards, 24 yards and 20 yards.

First-year defensive coordinator Brent VenablesBrent Venables
Defensive Coordinator / Linebackers
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said the game was decided on Clemson’s inability to get off the field on third down.

“We couldn’t make a play, we couldn’t get a stop. Defense is about making stops,” Venables said after the game. “Overall on the year we have played pretty good on third downs and fourth downs, and tonight they had our number. They were more precise than us. We made a couple of critical errors in the second half and let the quarterback run around at some critical times. We just weren’t good enough and didn’t coach them good enough and couldn’t make the play when we needed one.”

Venables said the Tigers were prepared for both Shaw and Thompson, but were surprised that Thompson made so many plays with his legs.

“I think the M.O was that running wasn’t really his cup of tea,” he said. “But he made plays when he had to, and we didn’t defend him very well. He was very timely and made plays when he had to. There were a couple of calls we would like to have back, but unfortunately you can’t.”

Venables said the lack of success on third down was because of South Carolina’s execution and Clemson’s lack of the same.

“We got into a number of third and fourth down situations where they converted,” he said. “In that third quarter, a number of the conversions were because of penalties on us. We couldn’t get into a rhythm because of them and us. It is a funny game – the opportunities were there and we just weren’t quite good enough. You have to give them all the credit; they scrapped together enough plays and conversions. In the second half, we just couldn’t get into that rhythm. “

One third down conversion went for a 34-yard touchdown from Thompson to Ace Sanders – early in the third quarter – that put the Gamecocks ahead to stay and was typical of the Tigers not stopping Carolina on long third downs.

“Those were long-yardage situations where we dropped eight and then didn’t do a good job in coverage,” he said. “We had the opportunities to make plays and we just didn’t quite do it. We tried to put our guys in good positions a couple of different times and we just didn’t get it done. They were nickel and diming us, executing when they had to and keeping our offense off the field.”

Venables said there were plays he wishes he could go back and change, but hindsight is 20/20.

“We had a couple of opportunities where we could have changed the outcome of the game,” he said. “But they were good enough and we weren’t. There are no perfect calls, but could we have been better in certain situations? Yes.”

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