CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When the No. 1 Clemson Tigers left the field Saturday night, after dismantling the No. 7 Miami Hurricanes by a final score of 38-3, there was little doubt in the minds of those who watched the game that the Tigers may have saved their best performance for the last -- at least on defense.
"It was one of (the best performances of the season) -- we've had some really good performances,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We started the year with an outstanding performance and ended -- I don't know if this is the regular season or not, we're not in the playoffs yet -- but ended it with another great performance. It was outstanding. Really again, it was fun to watch."
The Tigers held the Miami offense-- that ranked fourth in the ACC in scoring offense (31.9 points per game), fifth in total offense (422.9 yards per game) and second in red zone offense (92.5 percent) -- to only 214 total yards of offense and three points.
However, it may have been the play of the offense and quarterback Kelly Bryant that set the stage for the Tigers’ dominant performance -- as the Tigers scored on three of their first four possessions, becoming only the second team to register multiple first-quarter scores against the Hurricanes this season.
"Our guys just played really well. Our offense came out and set the tempo right away. Kelly Bryant played out of his mind and we really controlled both lines of scrimmage from the get-go,” Venables said. “They might have been a little off, I don't know. Our guys have been in a bunch of big games and that's an advantage with an experienced group like that and Miami had an incredible year and they're on the move.
“They have done an amazing job. It's been a while since they've been in this situation and they are a young team too. I would imagine that it's a lot of those things, but our guys were just very, very focused tonight and very well prepared and just had a hunger and a focus to them and a toughness that is hard to overcome."
Miami tried multiple things over the course of the night to attempt to get a spark -- from various trick plays to running the “Wildcat” offense -- but it was all in vain as the Tigers had answers for everything that Miami threw at them.
What Venables saw out of his defense in Saturday’s blowout was a unit that simply wanted the game more than the Hurricanes.
"I thought Miami came out and did a bunch of things -- they had a little bit of extra time and you could see they were doing some things structurally, playwise, formationally. I think that when you are so locked in in your understanding of the guy next to you and defensively overall, you play with such discipline. We were very handsy, getting our hands on a lot of balls and creating turnovers.
“We couldn't coach them hard enough, they were coaching themselves out there pretty good and on the sidelines. But from the onset, there was a hunger and a focus that no matter what happened, they weren't going to be pleased."
Now as the Tiger defense prepares for the next phase of its journey, a trip to New Orleans in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Venables believes that what sets his defensive unit apart is a unique passion for each other.
"We have got a group of tough-minded guys who love to play, they like to compete, they like adversity, they respond when their backs are against the wall -- we got just a bunch of players,” Venables said. “They like each other that have a great chemistry, a great trust, love, passion for what they're doing. There is no self-indulgence, no doubting, no egos...and they are very disruptive -- it's a very disruptive group."