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CLEMSON — Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables currently makes a cool $2.2 million a year to lead the Tiger defense — a value that head coach Dabo Swinney says he has earned.

"He's earned his status per the market, and just really happy for him," Swinney says.

However, after a defensive performance like the Tigers put together Saturday night against the 11th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies, one might argue he deserves a raise.

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The Tigers were torched last year on the scoreboard, as they gave up 26 points, and through the air, as A&M quarterback Kellen Mond threw for 430 yards.

This year, the Tiger defense was ready.

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After taking a 3-0 lead with 14:18 to play in the first half, Clemson held the Aggies scoreless until a touchdown with 6 seconds remaining in the game cut the Tiger lead to the eventual final, 24-10.

That last play was the Tigers only "bust" on a night that was nearly flawless.

“That might have been our first bust where there was a missed assignment," Venables said. "I’m proud of our guys. They really had a great performance. They played with a great focus, passion and sense of desperation.”

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Swinney echoed Venables' appreciation of the defensive performance.

“We did a tremendous job of being well-positioned, and we made great plays on the ball. A.J. [Terrell] was tremendous," Swinney said. "Nolan [Turner] missed a tackle in the first half but came back from that and made some great plays on the ball. [Tanner] Muse got another interception. Structurally, we did some great things. We did a nice job, assignment-wise. We put pressure on the ball. Our guys up front were ready for the challenge. They’re having fun playing defense.”

The something special was a dime package that the Tigers had been working on — and utilizing three safeties in the game.

"We practiced this a lot in camp — we figured we need to have multiple answers this year. We love our experience and depth in the back end," Swinney said. "Getting Nolan Turner and Denzel Johnson in the game and being able to move some guys around ... we just don't have a lot of DT depth right now."

Venables said it is a package that they have had, and used throughout the years, but it was a big part of the success Saturday.

“Yeah, we’ve done a lot of dime packages through the years," Venables said. "We’ve had it every year, just some different tweaks and versions of it. That part was good today.”

Those different looks kept the Aggies befuddled and confounded for the majority of the game.

The Aggies amassed less than 300 yards of offense and were outgained 234-92 in the first half. Quarterback Kellen Mond was sacked twice, threw one interception, fumbled once and was the victim of four quarterback pressures.

“We expect to make all the plays, that’s just how our defense is under Coach [Venables]. He expects to have either tackle for loss, sack, pick, we gotta be there," Muse said. "That’s how we prepare and I think the biggest thing for me is seeing Nolan [Turner], K’Von [Wallace], Denzel [Johnson], Isaiah [Simmons], the guys I’m right beside in the film room and seeing them make plays. Just so much joy comes through me and I just want to help them celebrate the best I can.”

Games like Saturday's were the reason that Venables was hired from Oklahoma after the 2011 season. It is also the reason that he makes $2.2 million a year, and, at that price, he may be the biggest steal in college football.

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia. He is editor of www.ClemsonMaven.io

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