CLEMSON — The Clemson defense may not have a “Turnover Chain” for their defense like the Miami Hurricanes, but they don’t need one to prove their dominance.
Entering this week’s ACC Championship Game, the Tiger defensive unit ranks fourth in the nation in sacks per game, fourth in yards per play, fourth in scoring defense and sixth in total defense. In total, the Tiger defense ranks inside the top 10 in 13 different categories.
This week, the defense will be challenged once again as it faces a Hurricane offense -- led by quarterback Malik Rosier — that is a far cry from the team the Tigers defeated 58-0 more than two years ago.
"Really good skill. Quarterback's been playing really well, saw him a couple of years ago,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Tuesday. “I think he was just a freshman then and some other familiar faces, particularly at receiver, that a couple of years ago were just a bunch of young guys. They're doing a great job being efficient and quarterback makes great decisions, gets the ball out quick and they do a terrific job getting the ball into their playmakers’ hands."
The Tigers are not unfamiliar with defending mobile quarterbacks like Rosier, having already played Lamar Jackson and, most recently, South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley. But Rosier possesses a different skill set than the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the Tigers’ rival signal-caller.
Rosier enters the game as the Hurricanes’ second leading rusher (408 yards and five touchdowns) on the season while adding an additional 2,798 yards passing and 25 touchdowns.
"He knows when to pull it down,” Venables said. “He does a great job and he's got excellent strength, combined with really good speed to break through some trash tackles. He's made a big difference in a number of games with his ability to run the ball, particularly Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, some other games as well."
As explosive as Rosier is for the Hurricanes, the catalyst for the offense is wide receiver Braxton Barrios — who leads the Hurricanes with 583 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on the season and has proven himself to be a weapon in the return game for the Hurricanes, averaging 16.2 yards per punt return.
"Just he's very explosive, very strong. He can stretch you vertically,” Venables said. “He's got terrific underneath quickness and really understands the game and how to find the patches of grass that are out there that are available. (He) understands coverages and defense — well-schooled and just a great, great competitor as well. He's a gamer.”
However, the Hurricane offense is more than two players and that is what makes planning for a team averaging 422.9 yards per game a challenge for the Tigers.
"They're tough to defend. They've got good skill and a quarterback that makes good decisions, and an 0-line and run game that gives them the balance that every offense looks for,” Venables said. “They can take the top off the defense - -stretch you vertically -- and pound you in the run game. They do a very good job, very efficient in what they do."
Venables responds to rumors
Venables’ name has been linked to head coaching vacancies at Arkansas and Mississippi State.
When asked whether he had been in contact with either of those schools, or if he was interested in the positions, he stated that he is focused on preparing his defense for the challenge they have this weekend against Miami.
"My focus is completely on this game and this week and the great job that I do have and the great players that I coach every day. No, my focus is right here,” Venables said. “Because ya’ll bring it up, it's annoying. I don't hear about it otherwise. You know whatever's out there, because I just don't spend any time focused on that. I've got a great job and, again, I've said that many, many times. I'm very thankful and grateful for that.
“We're in a great position, so why would I be worried about what's on the other side of the fence. I've always felt that way and if people have interest that's part of it. You either decide to listen or not, and right now, we've got a tremendous opportunity this week playing for a championship and my loyalty is to here and our players."