Challenges through the air

CLEMSON - Brent Venables anticipates Saturday's trip to Charlottesville to be a busy afternoon for his secondary.

Virginia has thrown 36 or more passes in five-straight games, including a 61-attempt day against Georgia Tech last weekend.

"They're going to be licking their chops," Venables said. "They're not watching all the great things we do. They're focusing on the weaknesses. What do we see them doing wrong? They're talking about that, working that, nurturing that concept of let's attack this and this and this."

Quarterback David Watford, who's started all eight games this season, has completed 191 of 314 throws for 1,715 yards with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The sophomore signal caller from Hampton, Va. likes to spread the ball out amongst a number of different receivers -- five have caught at least 20 passes for the Cavaliers.

"They've got a very precise quarterback that does a great job at spreading the ball around," Venables said. "They use a variety of personnel groups. They do a variety of things in all those different groups. Guys have to be really good at the base concepts.

"They get rid of the ball on time. The quarterback had a terrific day last week. Good receivers, huge tight ends, some big-bodied guys."

Leading the big-body tight end group is Jake McGee, who's first on the team with 31 receptions. He's also racked up 265 yards receiving and two scores.

Running back Kevin Parks is second among Cavalier receivers with 29 catches and 285 yards. Wide receiver Darius Jennings has caught 28 passes for 247 yards and a team-high three touchdowns.

Wide receiver Tim Smith leads the way with 350 yards receiving. He's caught 23 balls.

On the ground, Parks has rushed 144 times for 614 yards and nine touchdowns.

"Despite losing, they moved the ball at will. They stubbed their toe in the red zone a little bit. They've moved the ball well against most everybody they've played," Venables said.

Virginia is 10th in the ACC in total offense, averaging 382.5 yards. The Cavs are 12th in scoring with 22.6 points per game.

"We've got our own issues, cleaning up, in regards to coverage," Venables said. "That's what they do really well right now is throw the ball."

The pass offense is 10th in the league, averaging 219.9 yards.

Tough ending

Aside from the first quarter touchdown, Venables was pleased with what he saw in the first three-plus quarters against Maryland. The third quarter, in particular, was strong.

After giving up field goals on back-to-back drives, both of which started inside Clemson territory, Maryland went five-straight possessions without points. On the Terps' first eight second half possessions, they picked up 29 yards on 31 plays.

Things went down hill in the final half of the eight quarters. Maryland scored touchdowns on two of their final three possessions. And that was a big-time disappointment.

"You hate that. You're competitive and your job is to keep people out of the end zone," Venables said. "For me, personally, it takes a little bit of the shine off of it.

"We won and that's fine, but it still eats at you. Hopefully, it eats at the guys."

The big play by Kearse

Jayron Kearse came off the bench to play 47 snaps at free safety on Saturday. He recorded two tackles and one very timely interception.

"It was good and bad. He made a huge play in the game, a huge play. You can't really put a value on that. That was big-time," Venables said. "They had a little bit of momentum on both sides of the ball. They punch that in [and] it goes without being said…that was a really big play. There are other things he's got to keep working and getting better. He's still a young guy."

Moving forward, it appears that Kearse will continue to split time with Travis Blanks, who logged 26 snaps on Saturday.

"I think we've got a couple of guys we've got to keep playing. We've got to keep playing both guys," Venables said. "Travis is far more consistent, far more."

Bashaud Breeland's importance

There's little doubt as to which defensive back has had the best season so far for Clemson. That's cornerback Bashaud Breeland.

Through 393 snaps, Breeland has 41 tackles, eight pass breakups and three interceptions.

"I think he's playing with a lot of confidence," Venables said. "His instincts are showing up. He's been physical, both in the run game and covering people. He's playing with better poise, technique, discipline, all of those things. It makes a huge difference when you can get that level of play from him.

"That speaks for itself, his play."

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