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CLEMSON FOOTBALL: Venables sees control at line as key

September 6, 2017

CLEMSON — The Clemson defense flexed its collective muscles in the opening game against Kent State, allowing only 120 total yards of offense, including one-yard passing and only five first downs.

For the Brent Venables-led defense, this week will feature a massive step up in competition as the Tigers welcome Auburn to Death Valley Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN).

“Quarterback throws the ball very well. They do a good job, they can pound you and spread you out and throw the ball vertically,” Venables said. “They’ve got excellent skill at receiver, running backs and tight ends. They’ve got a veteran offensive line, very physical. A very physical spread attack and they can get big on you too, and they do a great job with how they game plan and how they’ve recruited. We’ve got a great challenge in front of us.”

Auburn’s first-year offensive coordinator is no stranger to the program, having served on the Auburn coaching staff in 2013 as an offensive analyst during the Tigers’ run to the SEC championship and eventual BCS national title game.

Following a stint at Southern Miss (2014-15) and Arizona State last season, Lindsey returned to the plains of Auburn this year as offensive coordinator. For Venables, the success that Lindsey has had at each of his coaching stops makes him a difficult coach to plan against.

“First of all, Coach Lindsey’s background is the state of Alabama. He was at Auburn, and then he branched out and had great success at Southern Miss and at Arizona State. So why wouldn’t you do those same types of things scheme-wise, formationally? His foundation looks to have an Auburn flavor, but he’s put his own spin on it as well,” Venables said.

That “Auburn flavor” involves a power running game that has been one of the best in the SEC since Gus Malzahn became head coach five years ago.

Auburn had a pair of players each rush for 136 yards in the opening game against Georgia Southern. Kerryon Johnson reached the number on only 16 carries and Kam Martin reached the number on 14 rushes — all while starting running back Kamryn Pettway did not play due to a one-game suspension.

It is the ability to run the ball behind a dominant offensive line that makes the Auburn offense so dangerous for opposing defenses.

“They’ve got speed. They’ve got size and power,” Venables said. “Thirty-six (Kamryn Pettway) will have fresh legs coming into Death Valley. I think he led the SEC in yards per game — big, strong, physical back. He’s a good athlete who can get outside on you as well. So they’ve recruited well there, and it’s just a staple of who they are is to be able to control the game and the line of scrimmage running the football.

“It’s hard because space is their friend. They can still be physical, and they do a good job of attacking you outside and inside both — they’re very effective. Their receivers and backs and tight ends do a great job blocking outside as well. Then they’ve got a big, powerful offensive line that knows how to bloody your nose. Then you throw on top of that a quarterback that can run and throw it both. They’ve got all the toys in the toybox.”

For Venables, the success of the Clemson defense Saturday night will come down to one thing.

“When our line of scrimmage is dominating theirs — that’s it,” Venables said. “That’s the only time that you ever feel good about anything during the course of the game is when your line of scrimmage is doing well. That’s kind of a start. If the team’s rushing for 500 yards on you, you don’t ever feel like you’ve got anything good going.”