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CLEMSON FOOTBALL: Venables sees stopping run as essential to winning

December 29, 2017

NEW ORLEANS -- The Clemson defense will have its hands full vs. the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN).

The Tide enter this week’s game as the highest ranked scoring offense (ninth), the second-ranked rushing offense and total offense that the Tigers have faced all season. However, what makes this offense so dangerous to defensive coordinator Brent Venables is the fact that it is so good at both running and passing the ball.

“They do a great job in a variety of ways of getting (the running backs) the ball, both in space and in between the tackles,” Venables said. “They do a really good job of using the quarterback - -moving his launch point and using him in the run game. He does a great job to improvise and extend plays. Then they’ve got tremendous players that can take the top off your defense off of all their play-actions. So they do a very nice job of complementing the run and the pass together.”

The Tide have been and always will be a run-first team that prides itself on “punishing opponents at the point of attack” and imposing its will on opposing defenses. Nothing has changed this season.

Even with their third offensive coordinator in three postseason games, Venables does not see many differences between what first-year coordinator Brian Daboll has done through 12 games and what he saw out of former coordinators Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.

“I always look at each game as a season and a life of its own. I don’t really look at trying to compare or contrast and this is what they do different,” Venables said. “I look at players and what they do best. How they feature them and don’t really try to compare, but they’ve got great backs again. They’ve got really good receivers. They’re doing a really good job of establishing the line of scrimmage.

“Those are all similarities. Some of the play design is the same and some of it’s a little bit different. They obviously got back here (College Football Playoff) and for the most part, all year, they were the No. 1 team in the country and destroying everybody. So what they’ve done is very effective. The coaches change, but the players keep doing the same stuff - -scoring a lot of points and moving the ball both in the run and the passing game.”

In the Tigers’ last two games against the Tide, the defense has allowed 359 rushing yards — including 158 and three touchdowns to Derrick Henry in 2016, and a combined 156 yards to Bo Scarbrough and quarterback Jalen Hurts and three touchdowns in last year’s national title game.

This year, the Tide featured three dangerous backs, including Hurts, who are constantly putting pressure on the defense to adjust — making this by far the best stable of backs the Tigers have faced this season.

“Best group of backs we’ve seen this year. When you watch the game last year, you see how strong #34 (Damien Harris) and #9 (Bo Scarbrough) and #8 (Jalen Hurts) back there, and then they have one of the best offensive lines we’ve seen this year,” defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “It’s going to take a whole team effort with the front seven to stop that run game, because if you can’t stop the run, you can’t win the game.

“It’s going to be tough and I’m getting tired of saying how tough it’s going to be because … wow, they don’t really have a weakness. I feel like we have the talent and work effort to do so. The players have bought into the system so I feel like we’ll be fine as long as we take care of business.”

Venables echoed the sentiments of Ferrell, adding that what increases the difficulty of playing Alabama is the Tide are able to rotate in four and five-star recruits at every position.

“I think each one brings something different to the table. But they are able to stay fresh,” Venables said. “As much as anything, it’s their ability to physically impose their will on people. They’ve got terrific players, very highly recruited players at every single position in that huddle. So even when everything is right, the margin for error is very little fundamentally, athletically, physically. When they’re able to keep guys fresh at the skill position, when they’re featuring the running backs, it can be a great, great challenge.”

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