football Edit

Vintage Venables

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CLEMSON -- There was talk of guarantees from College Station this week, talk of supreme confidence that they were going to atone for what happened last year on that rainy night when Clemson visited.

This was supposed to be an unusual, uncomfortable time for Clemson's defense as it grows up guys who aren't used to performing on the big stage.

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But some things never change. As usual, the man in the highlighter-yellow hat had the final word.

It feels like it's almost guaranteed Brent Venables is going to come up with something that drives offenses crazy, even when his defense is rebuilding.

Check that. Supposedly rebuilding.

A happy K'Von Wallace is shown here celebrating another big play by Clemson's defense Saturday in Death Valley.
A happy K'Von Wallace is shown here celebrating another big play by Clemson's defense Saturday in Death Valley. (Getty)

After Saturday, it feels like we should all have supreme confidence that Clemson's defense is going to be an absolute nightmare, regardless of the year and NFL Draft picks lost.

Everything else, including what a few Aggies players said a few days ago, is just idle talk.

What does it say about where this defense is now, where this program is now, that the only suspenseful moments in the second half come in the final minute when Clemson is trying to preserve a streak?

Not a winning streak. A streak of 20-point margins of victory, which the Tigers were trying to extend to 12. That would've tied the AP poll-era record set by Alabama last season before Clemson's four-touchdown smashing in the national championship game.

And darned if they didn't do everything they could to extend it, starters and all.

The final score said 24-10. But it felt so much worse, something like 42-3, and not even anyone from the other side would argue.

Clemson won its 17th consecutive game by dismantling another SEC team. The Tigers are 9-1 against "It Just Means More" since 2016.

A year ago, Kellen Mond and A&M piled up 501 yards and Clemson felt fortunate to emerge with a 28-26 win. The Tigers held the Aggies under 300 in this one, turning Mond into a disheveled mess until late. He had 97 yards passing after three quarters.

Leave it to Venables to opt against just doing the same thing as last year and hoping his defense would do a better job of covering A&M's plethora of high-level receivers.

The Tigers' eighth-year coordinator unveiled a new dime look that seemed to spook Mond: Taking a defensive lineman off the field and adding a third safety, Venables took away the middle of the field that the Aggies hammered so often in last year's game.

Trevor Lawrence is now a perfect 13-0 as Clemson's starting quarterback.
Trevor Lawrence is now a perfect 13-0 as Clemson's starting quarterback. (AP)

Isaiah Simmons was often on the back end playing centerfield instead of linebacker. K'Von Wallace moved to the second level and covered the slot. Nolan Turner helped put more speed on the field.

Add in a bunch of well-conceived blitzes by linebackers and defensive backs, and it was yet another masterpiece by Venables and Co.

Dabo Swinney said they practiced these looks all through the month of August. Venables didn't show much against Georgia Tech, using two personnel groupings. He threw out six against Texas A&M.

"We just did a tremendous job," Swinney said. "We were well positioned all day."

A&M had some success rushing early but was one-dimensional over the final three quarters, finishing with 53 rushing yards on 27 carries. Clemson had just three tackles for loss and two sacks, but the frequent pressure on Mond most certainly created the intended effect.

After a tense first quarter that ended scoreless and with Clemson's offense on the sideline far more than it desired, the Tigers took over in the second quarter and were up 17-3 after 30 minutes.

It wasn't always pretty for the offense, which had a number of dropped passes. Trevor Lawrence wasn't his utter best, but he was pretty darned good as the triggerman of an offense that sliced up the Aggies through the air and pushed them around on a regular basis.

Lawrence threw for 268 yards on a 24-of-35 clip with a touchdown and an interception. Lyn-J Dixon led the way in rushing with 79 powerful yards on 11 carries, while Travis Etienne had 56 yards on 16 carries and added 52 yards on four catches.

But this day belonged to the defense, because wasn't this supposed to be a time the offense was just going to have to outscore people?

Things aren't going to be as easy when the Power Rangers are no longer around, but this sure looked like a vintage Venables performance as Jimbo Fisher's offense was kept out of the end zone until the final seconds.

A&M quarterback Kellen Mond totaled over 450 yards of offense against Clemson in 2018.  He was 24 of 42 passing for 242 yards Saturday.
A&M quarterback Kellen Mond totaled over 450 yards of offense against Clemson in 2018. He was 24 of 42 passing for 242 yards Saturday. (Getty)

Even Clemson's offensive coordinators had to marvel afterward.

"He's the best in the country," Tony Elliott said. "That's why we are where we are as an offense."

Jeff Scott: "The opposing teams are fortunate because they only have to face Coach Venables once. We have to face him every day. That's a real good offense over there. Those guys are going to score a lot of points this year."

At halftime, Clemson had a 234-92 advantage in total yardage. Once Mond developed a semblance of a rhythm late in the third quarter, it felt like it was too late.

After a drop by Frank Ladson at the goal line kept A&M's feeble hopes alive, Mond drove the Aggies down the field and inside Clemson's 15.

Leave it to Venables to end that threat by sending K'Von Wallace on a backside pressure, making Mond force a throw that was picked off by Tanner Muse at the goal line.

Leave it to Venables to keep those starters in on that drive, then the one that ended with the crowd silenced -- however briefly -- at the sight of an A&M player in Clemson's end zone.

The guarantees from A&M's side melted into the stiflingly hot air at Death Valley.

The guarantee of great Venables defense remained Howard's Rock solid.

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