"There are a lot of guys that you just loved. I loved how aggressive we were. I loved how physical we were. I loved the effort that we played with," he said. "That gives you a great start."
Confidence had a lot to do with the Tigers' defense getting off on the right foot in 2013.
"They went into the game confident that we would win the game, and respectful and humble at the same time," Venables said. "They were that way because they earned that right to feel that way, as opposed to it's a big game, there's going to be a lot of hype and it is GameDay. You don't win that way.
"You win because of the work that you put in."
The work Stephone Anthony put in over the last seven months was apparent. Among the several individuals who earned high praise from Venables, over 71 snaps, Anthony had 13 tackles.
"Excellent" was the word of choice for Venables when asked to describe Anthony's play.
"It was the best game he's had in the short-term that I've been here. I really felt he was aggressive, sure of himself, played well," Venables said.
Venables added, "For Stephone, you build your defense inside, out. To have a middle linebacker that plays with assuredness, physicality, stay on your feet, blitz the right way, it makes a big difference.
"Put him and [Spencer] Shuey out there together and it's a really solid tandem."
Starting beside Grady JarrettFans and reporters tend to make a big deal out of who starts and who doesn't, much more than the coaches do. But there's something to be said for a guy like Carlos Watkins who earned the right to start beside Grady Jarrett.
"He practiced more consistently. That was the biggest thing. He practiced harder, with more intensity and was more consistent. He earned the job," Venables said. "We don't really care. You want somebody to go earn the job…we want that separation."
In his first start, Watkins played 34 snaps, logged three tackles and ½ tackle for loss. A start against S.C. State isn't a guarantee.
"I think if you're trying to be fair, you want to reward performance. You never want guys to put their guard down," Watkins said. "You want them to stay hungry, stay on edge."
Finally in the foldEven though Mackensie Alexander has been on the Clemson campus for close to two months, Venables still hasn't seen him go through a full practice. That could change this week.
Alexander has been dealing with a groin issue since the start of preseason camp. He's been limited for every practice and had to sit out the opener against Georgia.
Assuming everything goes to plan this week, Alexander will make his debut on Saturday.
"I hope, more than anything, that he's healthy, [to] get some experience, gains some confidence and remains healthy -- just kind of build from there," Venables said.
Looking ahead to the Bulldogs, againThis weekend's breed of Dawg is a little bit different. Aside from the obvious reasons, this Saturday presents a different challenge than the previous.
South Carolina State wants to go fast on offense. A version of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense has made its way down to Orangeburg.
Up-tempo won't be anything new to the Clemson defense. After all, they see it everyday in practice.
"I think it's great preparation for us. But the stresses for anybody are no different. Our management, our guys are well-versed in the management that needs to take place," Venables said.
The Bulldogs ran 82 plays for 365 yards in their 27-20 loss to Coastal Carolina.
"They use a variety of personnel," Venables said. "A lot of pre-snap movement, motions and a variety of formations, it will be a very mentally challenging game as much as it will physically."