Venables deflects praise, focuses on Oklahoma

When the news broke two weeks ago Clemson would play Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl, all eyes naturally turned towards defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

After all, Clemson's third-year defensive play caller spent the previous 13 seasons with the Sooners. And during his time in Norman, he won six conference championships and the 2000 National Title, not to mention coaching in three other BCS title games.

So when it was first announced he would face his old team and head coach Bob Stoops, what did he think?

"Really?" he pondered in an interview with CUTigers. "That was my first thought. We gotta play these guys? What are the chances? I mean, Clemson and Oklahoma haven't played since 1989 and they are playing again. It was unbelievable when I heard the news. You know, last year at one point it looked like we were going to play Baylor in a bowl game and that would have been kind of interesting, but this one definitely is.

"People who know me know how much I care for Coach Stoops. He was the one that gave me the opportunity when nobody else would. He made phone calls on my behalf when nobody else would. So, yeah, initially it was different when we first found out about it, but we are all focused here on winning this game and getting to 10 wins. Trust me."

Venables, of course, has been one of the biggest stories this year at Clemson.

With one of the most talented front sevens in school history, Venables helped pave the way for the Tigers to have the No. 1 defense in the country. At the end of the regular season, Clemson actually led the country in total defense, passing yards allowed and tackles for loss.

Talk about a far cry from when he first arrived on the scene.

Remember, Venables was hired shortly after the Tigers gave up a back-breaking 70 points to West Virginia in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl. Since then, under his watch, the Tigers have gotten better each season on the defensive side of the ball.

In typical Venables fashion, he's quick to deflect praise launched his direction so that he can focuse more on the players taking care of their business both on and off the field.

"I remember seeing Grady Jarrett for the first time right after I got here and I started thinking, 'ok we could have something here. Let me grab his shoulders and see what I've got to work it. Ok! Yes. This may work out," he said with a grin.

"And then you look at what he's done since then. And you look at a player like Stephone Anthony, who in my opinion was the top MIKE linebacker in the country this season. He made so many plays for us. And then Vic Beasley as a pass rusher and the amazing job that Tony Steward has done and then the improvement we made on the back end - which was a major question coming in to all of this."

For Venables, it's all about effort. "Relentless effort," as he likes to call it.

And while at times it feels like he's almost embarrassed to accept praise of any kind, his impact in Tigertown has been enormous. And others have taken notice, including FootballScoop.com, which recently named him its 2014 defensive coordinator of the year.

Additionally, Clemson's defensive numbers haven't been this good since the glory days of the 1980's - and that was in an era of ground and pound, not the hurry-up/no-huddle offensive era college football resides in today.

"It is a performance-based profession. It is," he said. "But this has been a process for us to get to this point. It was a process to get our guys to play with relentless effort, toughness and a discipline that it takes to win at this level. And you do it with respect. And we've done that.

"And now we've got to go out there and do it again at the end of the month."

Is there any doubt that's exactly what they'll do?

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