Clemson vs. Virginia Tech features two of the best defensive minds in college football

September 28, 2017 GMT

CLEMSON — The way Jeff Scott sees it, there are two or three defensive coordinators in college football that separate themselves on the national stage from the rest of the sport. They are, in other words, in a league of their own.

Clemson’s Brent Venables is one of them, Scott says — one of the elite coordinators in the premiere league of assistants. Bud Foster, Virginia Tech’s defensive coordinator, is another.

Scott has admired him for years.

“As a young coach even over the last 10 or 12 years just watching college football, I’ve always respected

coach Foster and know several people that have worked with him,” said Scott, Clemson’s 36-year-old co-offensive coordinator. “Bud Foster’s been in that top group a long time. We’ve had some really good battles with those guys in the past. Last year (in Clemson’s ACC Championship victory), it was a great game going back and forth and I expect nothing less this game. It’s definitely a challenge and one our players and coaches are looking forward to.”

Foster makes it difficult for opposing teams because of is his unique style and ability to shake things up, said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, whose second-ranked Tigers play No. 12 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Saturday night in a rematch of last year’s ACC Championship game.

Swinney noted that Foster has “always been a little bit ahead” of the curve and likes to run the 4-2-5 defense, as well as an unconventional coverage known as “robber coverage.”

Robber coverage is implemented to confuse a quarterback on his reads and isn’t used much in college football, but essentially grants a safety more flexibility on coverage with three different options. If a slot receiver or tight end runs a vertical route, the safety can go down field in man coverage. If it appears that the receiver or tight end is going to get a shorter pass instead, the safety hangs in the middle. If a team runs, the safety, known as the “robber” can come into the box to help defend that, too, as the third option. It is particularly effective against run-heavy teams and it is no secret Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant likes to use his legs.

“It’s kind of unique to them. They understand all the nuances of it,” Swinney said. “(Foster) ended up playing us a little bit different in the (ACC) championship game last year. He didn’t play near as much robber coverage as we thought he might. You just kind of make the adjustments as you get into the flow of the game. That’s football.

“We’ve got a system that has answers. We’ve just got to process it the right way and trust it.”

Foster has been with the Hokies for decades, entering his 30th year with the program. Over the years, he and Venables have become friends. Both coaches have won the Broyles Award, given to the best assistant coach in college football. Saturday should highlight each of their abilities.

“To be great at something you’ve got to do it for a long period of time and be very consistent and Brent is the epitome of that and so is Bud,” Swinney said. “Two outstanding coaches.”

Clemson is ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense, and the Hokies are ranked 28th.

Does Venables study Foster’s defensive schemes?

“Oh sure, yeah. Absolutely,” Venables said. “We met years ago at a Broyles ceremony and have stayed in touch through the years. Obviously since coming to the ACC I’ve followed him and always looked at how they’re playing people and the things that they’re doing. I’m always looking for new ideas. He does a great job, incredible job.”