Consistently consistent

CLEMSON - Clemson's defense is far from perfect. But lately, it has displayed something that hasn't been seen around these parts in a while – week-in, week-out consistency.

Entering Saturday's 3:30 p.m. visit from Boston College, the Tigers' defense has held its last four opponents to 14 points or fewer.

The last time that happened? The first four games of the 2000 season, Tommy Bowden's second season as head coach.

While the Tigers are 79th nationally in run defense (allowing 171.2 yards per game), they're 16th in scoring defense (16.6 ppg) and 17th in pass defense (185.4 ypg).

Second-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables loves his unit's overall steadiness and progress. "It's just not letting people move the ball with consistency," he said. "Like everybody, we've given up drives where you wish you could get back plays. But I think we've been pretty consistent. Doing the ordinary things pretty well. Playing with overall better discipline, and our guys are playing with incredible effort. When those mistakes are made they're playing with incredible focus and attitude, good toughness about them that they respond when their backs are against the wall."

Saturday, Clemson stopped Syracuse all three times it entered the red zone.

"Even when we've let people on our side of the 50, we've either knocked them back or held them on fourth down," he said. "Not very many fourth downs, but enough, and forced turnovers. There's a combination of a lot of things. I think we've shown that consistently it's hard when we make people work down the field.

"That's like most offenses, if they have to work for it, in an eight, nine, 10-play drive. We haven't given up many of those. That's been critical for us. We've got a good defense when we have to be consistently."

This fall, Venables said his defense has been more consistent. More poised. Just all-around smarter.

"It's confidence, technique, trust, discipline, positioning," he said. "A year ago, we stared in the backfield a lot. Whether you're in zone or man, it's hard to be in good position when you're staring in the backfield at the wrong things, looking at the wrong things. Sometimes in zone, you want to see what the quarterback's intentions are. But guys playing with more confidence, trust, technique, eye control. All of those things."

Syracuse rushed for 323 yards on 48 carries, but Venables loved the rhythm his defense established in the Carrier Dome.

"Even the other night, the numbers, whatever they were, you certainly don't like them, but if they're gaining, five, six, seven yards every time they snap the ball and they do that with 40 carries, it's very concerning when you give up the chunk plays," he said. "You look at the lack of consistency, the tackles for loss. We forced them to punt nine times, had nine three-and-outs. We denied them the opportunity to get them anything going from a rhythm standpoint."

Those run-defense issues are a concern with Boston College's Andre Williams coming to town. Williams rushed for 263 yards and five touchdowns against Army, and he averages 153.6 rushing yards per game, leading the ACC.

"You're not so much concerned as you don't like it, hate that it happens," he said. "You understand why, understand what took place. There are mental issues that as a coaching cliché, it's easily correctable. You just hate that it happened. Some of that is my fault, and we've got to be a little more consistent mentally and handling things.

"It's gap integrity. If you're not in the A gap, that's where they're going to run it. If you're not in the D gap, that's where they're going to run it. Gonna find you. That bothers you a lot as a coach. I'd take a little gratification on all the positive things. You can get beat by really good people in a tighter game. They've been good about immediately owning it. A few of the runs, where it was somebody different or a different call that we didn't execute very well. "

Venables covered a number of other topics in his weekly meeting.

On Boston College receiver Alex Amidon's success against Clemson last year (eight receptions, 193 yards, 2 TDs): "That's what I remember. Same things I remember last week when they gouged us in the run game, I remember with him in the passing game a year ago. He got us on the double move, long play-action pass, had his way with us last year. He's a good player, finds a way to get open, understands windows and he and the quarterback does a good job of getting him the ball. Great competitor, good speed, good player."

On how BC's offense is different under Steve Addazio's watch: "They're still spread as well, and finding ways to attack you in the run game. So whether they put a bunch of people in a small area, run the football, pound you between the tackles, where they're more than capable, which they've done. Some of the similarities to what you saw last week, they spread you out in the football as well, both inside and outside, spread game. They're very multiple how they attack you in the run game. Not as much in the quarterback run game that he's been known for at both Temple and Florida, but you don't need to do that when you've got the kind of line and back they have."

On if he thought freshman safety Jayron Kearse would progress as quickly as he has: "We were certainly hopeful. Probably assumed he'd be even further ahead. It's a tough position to learn. He's done a good job and seen him make incremental improvements the last couple weeks. The more he plays the better he'll get. The expectations were there. That maturation, for different guys it's different timetable. He's done pretty well."

What do you tell him?: "You just tell him what you tell all those guys. The discipline that it takes, as much as you don't have to do everything. Just do your job and we don't need you to make every play. Just the ones you're supposed to make. Have good eyes, understand adjustments and communicate, and listen to guys around you that are trying to help you too."

On Clemson's 13 turnovers through five games and why it's tied to focus and consistency: "Everyone's a little different. So for example Ben Boulware picks the ball 2 weeks ago. He put his eyes in relatively the right place to put himself in that position as opposed to a game before where he's not doing a very good job in some of his zone techniques, he's out of position. He was pretty close to where he was supposed to be.

"And as we've shown, sometimes that's good enough. Some young guys, it just takes them longer, or inexperienced guys, or guys that just lack focus and discipline. A guy on all the lists, he's skipping tutors, sleeping in, late to meetings, then he doesn't stay inside No.1 when he's supposed to have inside leverage. Or he doesn't stay in the post when he's supposed to be in the post. We had a lot of those issues a year ago. For us on defense it's hard to be consistent when you do two plays right and one play wrong."

On new DB coach Mike Reed and his impact: "It's how his fundamentals he teaches and reps every day. We're creatures of habit, for good or bad. If you're doing things that are fundamental for you as a player, they're going to help you as a player. We're creatures of habit and your defense is trained in reaction. Putting all those things before a guy on a daily basis, he's got a good way of teaching them. I might be screaming and hollering and he might be that calming effect. You're not going to get one over on him. He's very much a tool for those young guys, they realize that.

"Whether that's composure, correcting a technique, instilling certain level of toughness, creating a standard those guys have to live up to, it's a lot of those things those guys have grasped. They have a better functional intelligence about what you can do, when, and the stresses of it. He's had a huge impact. Those guys also have to take ownership, maturing, investing time, and on their weaknesses. I think they've done that in the out of season and it's showing now."

On national sack leader Vic Beasley and defensive ends coach Marion Hobby's impact: "You'd be naïve to believe Vic's out there doing it all. He's got good players but you've got to coach them. A lot of people have good players, you have to coach them. Teach them. And you have to reach them as well, challenge them and motivate them. Inspire them. Get them to practice at a high level. Marion does a fabulous job with those guys, dealing with them individually, they're all a little bit different as well as most position groups are. And how you talk to them, how you teach them, challenge them is a little different. He's done a great job with that and the fundamentals of the game, the ifs, ands or buts."

On if he's surprised by Beasley's emergence: "I'm not surprised. Pleased. He's got a unique skill set, he's playing with good effort, staying humble and practicing hard, and playing with discipline that helps other things execute as well, helps himself. Sudden, explosive, good awareness, good anticipation about the game, what happened the last down, the last third down. He's better at studying tape, understanding the opponent , guys lining up for what works and what doesn't."

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