Questions on defense

CLEMSON – Some coaches might prefer to burn the tape from a night like the one Clemson's defense endured Saturday night.

Deposit the ashes in the bottom of a remote trash bin, and never speak of it again.

Brent Venables is not one of those coaches.

Clemson's second-year defensive coordinator believes much can be learned from the 51-14 beating that Florida State inflicted on his defense Saturday, the highest point total an opponent has ever amassed in Memorial Stadium and the Tigers' most lopsided home loss since 1998.

And Venables intends to teach his team those lessons this week.

"There are some mistakes to be corrected," Venables said Tuesday. "You don't sweep it under the rug and act like it never happened. It happened. Some missed tackling creates some big plays. The late one (Nick O'Leary's 94-yard reception), you've got a freshman (safety Jadar Johnson) staring in the backfield. Otherwise I thought they worked us pretty good underneath.

"It's just trying to correct some things, and got to play this game in an aggressive way. You can't play on your heels, can't play not to make mistakes and sometimes we did. Other times we didn't, and it was maybe one guy. Kids know when you're real and when you're not. There's no way to sugarcoat it. You got beat by a good team and a lot of their success was due to them executing and we didn't execute very well."

Entering last week, Clemson's defense appeared to be trending upward. Following a 38-35 season-opening win over Georgia which saw the Tigers yield 545 yards of offense, the next five foes were held to 14 points or fewer, the longest such streak since the end of the Danny Ford era in 1989.

Three of those opponents (S.C. State, Wake Forest and Boston College) were held under 300 yards. Florida State, however, is a far more talented offensive unit, similar to a full-strength Georgia team.

And it showed.

"It was the first game all year as a defense we felt like we didn't match the precision," Venables said. "The effort was there, the precision and execution wasn't what it needed to be. Against a good team you get exposed and exploited pretty quick."

Clemson entered as the national leader in sacks and tackles for loss, and remains so this week. But a vicious pass rush was largely neutralized by Florida State's athletic defensive line; all three sacks were piled up after FSU had taken an insurmountable lead.

"They blocked us and at times when we pressured, we weren't precise or violent enough like we needed to be," Venables said. " There's no magic formula for how it works. You beat a guy or you don't, they block you or they don't or you execute like you need to, or you don't."

Venables says being honest and real with his players is the only acceptable approach this week.

"Our guys, they're going to feed off us as coaches," he said. "You bring juice and energy and put the facts in front of them, and understand that it's not doom and gloom. Losing stinks. It can never be acceptable. You point out what the mistakes were, make sure you get them corrected, make sure everyone understands responsibility, coaches and players alike, and move on together."

He also trusts his defensive leadership to keep his side of the ball moving in the right direction.

"The leadership it's been what it's been. It's been very solid," he said. "Again, nothing has surprised me. How they've handled it, how they've reacted. It's our job as coaches to guide them and lead them. The leaders, no problem for those guys to keep guys' minds in the right place."

That means believing in the right things and ignoring outside influence and noise.

"It's easy if you allow it to happen to get led down the wrong road," he said. "We preach at the beginning of the year before we started, don't listen to outsiders, don't get distracted, don't ride the waves, invest in the process and good things will happen. It usually does. When something breaks down in that process, you're going to have the kind of results you want. We've been consistent with our message, it's easy to keep our guys bought in and the leadership to continue to send the right message."

Other notes from Venables' session with reporters:

Venables on Maryland quarterbacks C.J. Brown and Caleb Rowe (Rowe relieved Brown, who had a concussion and several injuries against Wake Forest, and Maryland coach Randy Edsall has declined to name a starter for Saturday): "They're very similar quarterbacks. Both throw the ball well, scramble around pretty good, dimension-wise, physical stature, they're about the same. Both helped them win and get to 5-2. (Rowe) has a good grasp of the offense, plays with poise and plays very well, so it really doesn't' have any bearing on us."

On how Maryland will adjust without top receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both of whom suffered broken legs at Wake Forest: "I'm sure they'll run their offense. They've got good backs. Strong offensive li ne. Best players are at quarterback, running back, tight ends. I'm sure they'll try and feature those guys. They're a spread offense as well.

"They'll get into the three-backs, but I'm sure they recruited well at wide receiver. They've got some good-looking young kids who played. They weren't starters, but I'm sure it's more of the same. They got to 5-2, I'm sure they're not going to completely reverse course on what they're doing offensively. We've got to prepare for what we've seen on video and expect their young guys to step up like we would ours. We wouldn't dramatically change what we're doing."

On Clemson's secondary depth without Garry Peters and without Bashaud Breeland for the first half due to a suspension for targeting: "I think you feel a little better. Darius (Robinson) has played pretty good this year, he's played well this yea. Martin (Jenkins) has played well when he's been in there. We feel good, we feel fortunate. It's quite different from a year ago."

On Breeland's suspension and his opinion of the targeting rule with automatic suspension for an ejection: "I don't' really have any. It's unfortunate we lost Breeland, he's a good player. He was just trying to be aggressive, he's got to hit the guy lower. That's the rule. Hit a guy above his shoulders. It's what the rules are so we've got to abide by them."

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