Venables commentary refreshing

Brent Venables is a really good defensive coach. But even better, he's honest, and that's refreshing.

After years of hearing about statistics from one defensive coordinator and then the "process" from another, Clemson fans have a defensive coordinator who isn't shy with his assessment of his unit.

Just check these quotes from Saturday's post-game conversation with the media:

"The first half made me want to throw up. In the second half, we just executed a lot cleaner. The positioning and leverage was better."

Or …

"I don't know if this was the most disappointed I've been all season. The first time we lost the lead against Auburn I was very disappointed then. We can't give up chunk yards and have a good defense."

And …

"We've got to make other teams earn it. We have a lot of work to do. I have great respect and value for the game, and when you're not on for whatever reason, you get exposed. We will break the score board next week if we don't play better and more consistent."

I'm not sure you would have heard that kind of talk from Vic Koenning or Kevin Steele. Nope, Koenning would have pointed to stats, whatever stats made the defense look the best. And Steele would have talked about the process and likely would have said, "We'll get it fixed."

It doesn't sound like Clemson fans will get that kind of talk with Venables running the show. He saw what the fans saw from his unit Saturday – more sloppy tackling and more troubles with missed assignments, especially in the first half – and he wasn't going to sugarcoat it. He's not going to make excuses, and he's not going to focus on the stat sheet to act like things are better than they are.

He knows there are problems, and his focus is on hard work to make sure those things are turned around before the next game. The Tigers better hope they do just that this week during practice or Saturday's game against Florida State is going to be an eye-opener.


Through three games against Furman, Ball State and Auburn, Clemson has given up 53 points. Last season, the Tigers gave up 70 points in their first three matchups versus Auburn, Wofford and Troy. (Roy Philpott)
Venables' approach, however, will get things going in the right direction.

TERRIFIC TAJH, AGAIN: We might have to leave this entry in this spot each week, especially if Tajh Boyd continues to play as well as he is playing.

Yes, he had a couple of shaky throws Saturday against Furman, but he was also right on the money with most of his throws and decisions. Through three games, Boyd has just one interception, and he has throw five touchdown passes. He didn't run as much against Furman as he did the first two games, but that's probably a good thing. It wasn't needed, and this was the type of game – never in doubt so that the run threat wasn't a key to the offense -- that something bad could have happened if he did run. There just was no need to risk injury.

Boyd has connected on 63-of-86 passes (a 73.3 completion percentage) for 747 yards, and he has spread the ball around nicely to his receivers. On a side note, it's still amusing that some national writers believe Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas is a better player than Boyd. The two head-to-head meetings last season should have shot down that theory, and Thomas proved it again Saturday with a terrible performance against Pittsburgh.

Boyd will need to be even better against Florida State's stout defense, and he will be. The offense has been somewhat conservative the past two weeks, and that should change Saturday. Chad Morris will throw everything he has in his playbook at the Seminoles, and that starts with Boyd.

STRUGGLES UP FRONT? Statistics can sometimes be misleading. Clemson's offensive line allowed no sacks and led the way for the running game to gain 184 yards on 34 carries Saturday. That's an average of 5.4 yards per carry. Sounds pretty good, right?

But dig a little deeper, and it shows that the line struggled against Furman, something that can't happen if Clemson is going to beat Florida State.

Andre Ellington had 15 carries for 59 yards, which is an average of just 3.9 yards per carry, although he ran hard and did have two touchdowns. But he didn't have big holes to run through, and that is concerning considering who the opponent was and what kind of opponent is coming up next. And outside of Sammy Watkins' 58-yard run, the running game had 126 yards on 33 carries, an average of 3.8 yards per rush.

MORE STRUGGLES UP FRONT? There were a couple of things that jumped off the screen during Saturday's game. The first was just how electric Sammy Watkins is. It's easy to forget how important he is to this team without him playing the first two weeks, but it was good to see him back out on the field (more on that in a bit).

The other was just how non-existent Clemson's pass rush was against the Paladins. Like Furman, Clemson didn't have any sacks, and that's almost hard to fathom. Against an FCS team, Clemson should be able to get at least a handful of sacks based on talent and depth alone.

Granted, the game plan on defense was conservative Saturday, but it was surprising to see that Clemson wasn't able to get any sacks or really any pressure at all on the Furman quarterbacks.


"Watkins' first game back was pretty tame for him, but it also showed how much he means to this team." (Roy Philpott)
JUST GETTING STARTED: Watkins' first game back was pretty tame for him, but it also showed how much he means to this team.

After missing the first two weeks, he had four catches for 52 yards, with a long of 19 yards. That's really nothing special. DeAndre Hopkins led the team again with seven catches and 95 yards, and Watkins didn't even have a touchdown reception.

But the versatile sophomore did contribute it other ways, electrifying the crowd with a 58-yard touchdown run – his first touchdown run at Clemson. And each time he touches the ball, it almost takes your breath away waiting for him to do something special.

In Watkins' first game back with the team, he led the Tigers in all-around yards with 119, including 9 return yards. His return should open things up for everyone else around him. Watkins and Hopkins form a lethal combination, and they are players who can, and will, go up and fight for the ball. The pass doesn't have to be exactly on the money for them to go get it. That should give Boyd plenty of confidence moving forward to have them together.

That also should give Jaron Brown -- does anyone come down with more tough catches than him? – and other receivers like Martavis Bryant, Charone Peake and Adam Humphries and tight end Brandon Ford more room to operate.

It also should give Boyd and Ellington more running lanes, and larger ones, to operate to give this team a nice balance on offense. That balance will be needed against Florida State on Saturday.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley

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