Venables: No out-tricking Alabama
CLEMSON — When Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables learned that his Clemson defense would be tasked once again with stopping the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff, he admitted that what actually went through his mind was more than likely not safe for the ears of those around him.
“I’m not going to tell you what I really thought, all right,” Venables said. “It was like, hey man, you wanna be the best, you gotta beat the best. I think for most of the year, 99 percent of the year, they’re at No. 1 and well deserved -- had another incredible year.”
With this season being the third straight postseason matchup between the Tigers and the Tide — the first two coming in the national title game — it will also mark the third different offensive coordinator for which Venables and the Tiger defense will have to prepare.
The first time the two programs met, the Alabama offense was led by Lane Kiffin. Kiffin was replaced, due to his duties as the newly appointed Florida Atlantic head coach, the week of the national championship game by Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian left after last season to assume the role of offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.
This year, the offensive coordinator duties have fallen to former New England Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll. But even with the turnover and facing their third offensive coordinator in as many years, Venables believes the Tides’ success is because of their players and not necessarily who is calling plays.
“I don’t know about tendencies -- everybody has their own flavor -- but the players are all very talented,” Venables said. “They’ve got very good schemes that put them in competitively advantageous positions. They do a good job in protection, they do a great job in the run game. The quarterback -- they’ve got designed runs, a little bit more designed runs for him.
“They’re doing a great job dividing the defense and make you really play disciplined football,” Venables said. And then they take shots with receivers that are as good as any in the country.
The Tide has been as dangerous of a team offensively as the Tigers have seen this season, with sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts returning to his form of a year ago when he was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and wide receiver Calvin Ridley back.
But for Venables, everything the Tide wants to do offensively begins up front on the offensive line and with their three dynamic running backs.
“There’s another year of maturity and they’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast,” Venables said. “Their backs are big time and they’ve got more receivers in their arsenal now. Ridley is just a year older and really, really good. They’re doing a good job getting the ball to their playmakers. The quarterback is playing really, really well again.
“They’ve got a bunch of great players starting with their running backs -- they’re a nightmare. (Damien Harris), (Bo Scarbrough) and (Josh Jacobs) and then the quarterback as a runner too. But they’re getting the ball to the back, both in the run game, passing game -- they do a great job with that.”
While the Tigers and the Tide have been become postseason staples in the College Football Playoff over the last three seasons, the challenge of lining up against one of the premier football programs is not only exciting for the fans and the media, it is a motivating factor for the players.
’It’s a great challenge, but one that’s easy to get our guys excited for. They have more respect for Alabama than anybody because they’ve had to line up against them and you know you’re not going to out-trick these guys,” Venables said. “You’ve gotta play physical, you gotta play with great fundamentals, you’ve gotta play with incredible effort and passion. But the physical and mental toughness that they make you play with in all three phases of the game is why you play the game and you coach the game.
“Again, if you want a chance to win a national championship, you’ve gotta play great football teams and great players. Hopefully by the time the game gets around here, we’ll be ready to play and I know our guys are really excited about the opportunity.”