Up To the Task: Clemson's defense shut down Lamar Jackson when it mattered


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Christian Wilkins takes aim at Lamar Jackson
Christian Wilkins takes aim at Lamar Jackson

LOUISVILLE, KY – Defensive coordinator Brent Venables doesn’t smile often so when he does, you take note.

Saturday night in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium after a dominant 47-21 win over Louisville, there wasn’t much for Venables to not smile about.

Louisville ran 69 plays for 433 total yards, was 5-of-16 on third down and possessed the ball for just over 24 minutes Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson was held to 21-of-42 passing for 317 yards and three scores and just 64 yards on the ground, and much of that came against Clemson’s second and third string defense.

Jackson finished with 381 yards of total offense, but much of it came with the Cardinals well behind in the fourth quarter. His longest run went for 30 yards, and he did not score a rushing touchdown in front of an announced crowd of 55,588, the second largest in Cardinal Stadium history.

Clemson played almost every player on the travel roster, and Venables said his unit – all three groups – rose to the challenge of stopping Jackson

“I was very pleased with our guys. For three-plus quarters I thought we had control of the game. I thought our pressure up front was good,” Venables told the media after the game. “Our positioning was pretty good in the backe nd. I thought our guys executed our plan pretty cleanly. They rose to the challenge. Probably my favorite part of the whole game was when they've still got their guys in the game and we got our goal line stand there, that was pretty cool.

“Just proud of our guys for coming in there and having a little toughness to them. We did let them right down the field. I'm pleased with our guys. We've got a chance to have a really good unit and I think we're creating and developing that depth. I think we played 70 of 72 guys, so that's pretty remarkable to go on the road against a quality opponent like Louisville and be able to do that. You can't say enough about our guys. Lamar Jackson is an unbelievable player and he can win a game all by himself. That's the kind of stress he puts on your defense. I'm super proud of our guys. We're 3-0 and we've got a long season, got a ton of things we've got to get better at and it's time to go back to work on Monday.”

Despite only giving up 149 total yards and just seven points in the first half, Venables said he and the coaching staff quickly reminded the team of the 2016 game, in which a 28-10 halftime lead seemed to vanish in seconds.

“That was one of the first things we told them,” Venables said. “We really felt like we were in control of the game. All that being said, it's a two score game so I never felt comfortable in that way by any stretch. We were in a rhythm and here's what they're doing and here's what we've got to get fixed, here's what the issues are. Our guys really stayed locked into that.”

The difference between this year’s game and last year’s? Venables said the offense and defense played complementary football, with the offense keeping Jackson and Louisville’s offense off the field for much of the game.

“Better prepared? I don't know about that. I thought we played really played well against them a year ago through the first half,” he said. “Again, it's four quarters, but I thought we were in complete and total control of the game in the first half last year and then we didn't play complimentary football in the second half. I think two of the first three drives we turn it over and we get on our heels and we couldn't stop them in the second half last year. I really don't think we played nearly as well as a team.

“That really helps our defense - our offense being able to take the ball and go score, the kicking game being able to control field position. Last year's team is last year's team - a really good group of guys, but this unit has a chance to develop and be a really good one. We're not great yet at anything, but I know this - our guys put into that great work. We've got great leadership and that selfless attitude, so I think we've got a lot of intangible that give you a lot of belief that this group, if they continue to work, stay focused, stay humble and continue to work on our chemistry and our understanding of what we're doing, we have a chance to be a really good unity.”

Despite the game being firmly in hand early in the fourth quarter, Venables said his favorite moment came with just seconds left on the clock.

“That was probably my favorite sequence of plays. When I knew the game was over, our guys came in there and they had first-and-goal and we almost had a pick,” he said. “We should've had two picks maybe. That was a pretty satisfying four downs to watch those guys that work really hard and deserve the opportunity to get in there. Nolan Turner and did what nobody else on defense could do all night - in space, solo tackle, wrap, squeeze and roll. It was perfection. It was fun to watch.”

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