Same old story

CLEMSON – As Brent Venables finished up his session with reporters previewing Georgia Tech's offense Tuesday, he joked, "Same scouting report next year!"

Venables was kidding – kind of. Under Paul Johnson, the Yellow Jackets' flexbone option offense stays consistent from year to year. It does so because it is remarkably effective. Thursday night, Clemson gets another shot at shutting it down. The principles of doing so are basic – stopping it is anything but.

Tech averages 311.2 rushing yards per game (exactly the same as it did a year ago), which ranks fifth nationally. The Yellow Jackets convert 54 percent of their third downs, fourth-best nationally, and rank third nationally in time of possession.

"The scouting report stays the same with them year to year with what they do and why they do it," Venables said. "They make it tough. It's different than what you see (on a weekly basis). Hopefully extra time and preparation gets us better fundamentally, because it still comes down to us being physical and executing and staying on your feet, putting your eyes where they belong and playing responsible football."

Discipline, he said, is the ultimate key.

"It's about angles," he said. "They've got leverage on you, they've got angles on you. They're really good at getting in your feet. Even if they don't get you on the ground, they tie you up just long enough and get outside of you. It's very hard to force 11 guys on defense to play with great discipline every snap. They wear you out doing the same thing, over and over. Guys get bored with it and that's when you have a lot of issues."

And any possession is four-down territory for Johnson's offense.

"It's not difficult, because that's your mindset," Venables said. "Every down, it's the No.1 thing on the scouting report, every down is a run down. So when you have that on third and nine, you're in that mentality, you know fourth down, they're going for it. I think they did that the first drive last year on their end of the field, fourth and 1, fourth and 2, their 35-40 yard line, they go for it. We stopped them. This game will be no different. It's good for them when it works, it can be hard to overcome when it doesn't work for them. "

However, the slightest error, Venables says, "can be catastrophic."

The secondary plays a very different role – Tech runs on over 80 percent of its offensive plays, forcing the secondary largely into run support.

"There's high stress because of the space you're required to defend in, and some of the blocking schemes and reads you take need to be very precise, and the angles you take need to be very precise," he said."So there is certainly high stress, again, from your secondary. They're such a critical part. It's not like they're coming out with three wides and a tight end, running a zone play, where you don't need your secondary.

"You're going to need the secondary to support and defend them very well. Not only just to support, keep them from being a big play, but stoning them and leveraging it and stopping the perimeter run game. That's why, a lot of it's not just triggering and getting it, but staying on your feet. And we lost leverage I forget how many times last year. You run out of fingers and toes how many times we lost leverage last year. We've got to do that a lot better."

That said, Venables said Tech quarterback Vad Lee has improved from a year ago. He has eight touchdowns against six interceptions and averages 111.3 yards passing per game.

"Even their throwing game, it's high stress. And that's why they do have success when they throw it. In the obvious situations, you've seen it. Think back to a year ago, watching the game on TV against Virginia Tech, when they had to late in the game, in a tight game, they went right down the field throwing the ball. How did they do it? Well, to be a good option defense, the coverage is high stress. A lot of one-on-one opportunities.

"They're better because the quarterback is more accurate and throws the ball in better spots, and they're more mature at receiver, I think they just gained a year of experience. It forces them to play in a completely different mode. Every down is a run down for four quarters and that's the mindset you have to have."

So how does Clemson prepare? Expect the unexpected, but stay disciplined.

"I think you have to have some subtle change-ups," he said. "In their mind, their world which they live in, they're always going to have answers for what you're doing. It's a little bit cat-and-mouse, but it's not earth-shattering. If you're whooping people up front, you're tackling people soundly, you're on top of routes, you're not turning people loose, you leverage the football, you win the game.

"There's some simplicity in it. There's more intricacy in it than you think. They're not running the same dive scheme. The fullback's getting it, they're piping it, keeping it tight. They're changing the schemes in what they're doing, they're having some complexity, with the simple plays it looks like they're running. You have to be, the first thing they'd like to see you do three, four, five crazy things, radical things, that's what they'd love to see you do. So you have to wear them out with precision and discipline."

More from Venables' Tuesday session:

On Georgia Tech's cut-blocking: "Some of it is pushing the envelope of being an illegal block. Not a high-low, necessarily, but where they're leveraging the blocks from. Hopefully guys are looking for it. I've lost guys in games to season-ending injuries, ACLs, because of it. From that standpoint, I'm not going to do that to my guys in practice from the same kind of angles. They know they've got to play over bent knees and be violent with their hands, and be quick with their feet, and stay on their feet. We can't lose guys to getting cut and put on the ground. If we're on the ground, we're not going to stop these guys. We've got to stay on our feet to have any chance."

On the extra time of an open date helping in preparation: "I think anybody that plays well will say that, it's one thing if you had 3 weeks or a month to get ready for them, like for a bowl game. But you've got a short window, it's not what you see, not what you teach from week to week. Some things are the same fundamentally but they do the same things in a very precise way. And so you have to match that precision.

"It helps, just to get more familiarity, force angles to the ball, more cutblock work, crack back work, play action work, all that. Someone asked me would you rather have a bye week or not? I said absolutely."

On trying new things against this offense: "You see the 4-3, then the 3-4. That's the most radically different thing you see. You're not going to re-invent the wheel and have this ‘A-ha!' moment, I don't think. At least it hasn't taken place. Is it split safety, is it single safety, is it 3-4, is it 4-3, and that' what they're looking for. That's as radical as you'll see. If you get too crazy, other than that, my experience is that it doesn't work real well."

On improvement from a year ago: "I think we're better. We're more experienced. I think we're better than what we were going into this game a year ago and I'll see if we play better. We need to play better than we played a year ago, and we didn't leverage the ball well, we lost assignments, consistency with our assignments. They came out with a new formation and it took us a few series to get it adjusted. That's what they're good at. I'm sure that'll happen this week. Whether it's a new play, a new blocking scheme, a new formation, there's going to be something new. The faster we adjust to it the better off we'll be. I do feel better going into this year. I think that whole front seven is just another year more mature, but I felt really good.

"One of the guys I felt really good about last year, the first few drives he didn't play well and consequently they got outside of us a number of times. When you get this call, you don't close, you don't squeeze. And we did, and we lost our footing and the ball got outside of us. That was shocking based on who the guy was. Sometimes it doesn't matter what your scheme is, you've got to go play and you've got to execute."

Did the fourth-quarter comeback and Spencer Shuey's safety change the direction of your defense: "There were a bunch of good plays within that game, a blocked field goal, a bunch of the fourth-down stops, the safety. So, I think it was a good win for us as a team. We really complemented each other well, particularly in that fourth quarter, where we opened up a tight game. Getting (Shuey) more involved was a bigger turning point than anything."

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