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January 7, 2017

Brent Venables

Tampa, Florida

Q. Coach, you guys shut down Ohio State last week. What was the attitude in practice leading up to this game against 'Bama?
BRENT VENABLES: There's a lot of excitement, obviously. The stage that we're on and what's sitting in front of us to have an opportunity to be back here again after losing the game last year, none of us take it for granted.

It's incredibly difficult to get here. It's been a great year. But, like always, it's a grind to get here, and this is what you work for.

In this profession, whether you're a player or coach, this is as good as it gets to have an opportunity to play for it all against the benchmark in college football in Alabama.

They're the standard, and that's what we want to be. And we want the kind of success that they've had.

Q. Last year, you faced Jacob Coker. This year, it's a different style in true freshman Jalen Hurts. What's different about their offensive scheme now?
BRENT VENABLES: I mean, everything changes year to year. Things evolve, players change. Schemes are tweaked and as coaches you like to think they're improved.

Their team's different, you know, how they're built and so are we, though. So I think, obviously, the biggest difference there's more quarterback run game and RPOs. But they are who they are too.

They're going to pound you. They've got incredible skill on the outside, both their tight ends in Stewart and Ridley that can take the top off the defense. They know you know that. So it's pick your poison.

They've done an incredible job of reloading and, again, putting an offense that fits their skill set of their players, starting with their quarterback. Playing beyond his years and his maturity and his decision making.

And then, you know, them giving him an opportunity to be successful too, not asking him to drop back and throw it, you know, 45 times, moving the pocket, changing his launch point and things of that nature to fit his skill set.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, I mean, I don't know about Alabama, you know, but we have done a good job of recruiting and developing and our players buying in. We've had great continuity within our program.

We don't have a lot of transfers year in and year out. We really don't take any junior college players so you don't have these massive departures or unexpected departures, necessarily, outside of coming out. We lost five, you know, juniors last year on defense.

But we have been incredibly fortunate to be able to recruit some incredible talent and plug these guys in and get them ready to play.

Q. Some of those guys that you lost, there's no way you could have expected at the beginning of last year that they were going to leave early. (No microphone) projected your depth chart.
BRENT VENABLES: It's kind of hard to do because your numbers are your numbers, and we don't run guys off. We're not trying to find ways to generate more scholarships. The numbers are the numbers, and hopefully you develop your program to a point where you're patient with guys and you look at a guy like Carlos Watkins, who's been a solid player for us but this year has been spectacular. He's a fifth year senior. Cordrea Tankersley, another guy that's been here from day one and has developed into the kind of player that he is.

So I think that that's ultimately what you want as a program is to not have to play a bunch of freshmen right away. And I think the cornerstone to what you are, your Jadar Johnsons, Ben Boulware, Cordrea Tankersley, Carlos Watkins that maybe weren't incredible players as freshmen or even sophomores, but have really developed into as good as it gets. Consistent, tough, hard-nosed, disciplined, great leadership.

They understand our culture, understand our program and they hold a standard to all those younger guys. Guys like Christian or Dexter or Clelin Ferrell, they don't play to the level that they play if they don't think the right way, act the right way, work the right way, and that comes from our leadership and our seniors, guys that have been in our program that are proud to wear that paw.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: I think that they're more alike than they are different, knowing their background and having been together previously and in the same offensive coaching tree, so to speak.

Hey, man, the DNA is going to be different. So my DNA's different than Mike Stoops' DNA. And so just whether it's how you want to handle certain situations, how you've built your defense and your package knowing the strength and the weaknesses.

So how you look at it as a play caller will vary a little bit, and that's some things that you don't know.

Q. You go back and look at Sark's days at 'SC?
BRENT VENABLES: A little bit. A little background work. Whether it's people that have played against him and things of that nature. But you don't want to over-think it either. You got to line up, you know, stance alignment assignment. You got to stay on top of things, you got to tackle, you got to get off of blocks and play aggressive and not try to, again, out-think yourself too.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, a little bit. Again, you don't want to chase ghosts either. They're back in the national championship game, and their players are their players. They've got a great system. I don't think that Lane and Steve are on two different planets offensively and philosophically.

My understanding is that there's been involvement this year, and so I think there's already some influence that way with Steve having been there.

But, again, we're going to do what we do, and they're going to do what they do. They're going to get the ball and the guys that can make plays. I'll run out of fingers and toes if you want me to.

I'll go down and start listing them, starting with those three running backs and, again, Ridley and Stewart and 88 had a career day. So they're going to get those guys the ball whether it's vertically or it's a quick screen or some kind of a double move or wheel routes, things of that nature. Those things aren't going to change.

Q. Brent, when you look at college football today, great defenses hold a team under 20. You throw a goose egg on Urban Meyer and Ohio State. How proud are you?
BRENT VENABLES: Real proud. I got a perspective. We're not beating our chest thinking that we're the steel curtain. But at the same time, we need to recognize our players for their effort, their work, for their toughness, for their execution.

We really complemented each other well in that game. We were on the right side of it. We were on the right side of it all night long and they just couldn't quite get it right.

So you play them another ten times, you're probably not going to get a goose egg, you know, but you never know. But, again, I don't want to also downplay our players' performance.

And that's what, ultimately, you want. The best teams you've been around are teams that just continue to get better as the year has gone on, and we really feel like our guys are hitting their peak right now.

Q. Can you compare Alabama to anybody you've played?
BRENT VENABLES: No, just because I think they have a completeness that we haven't seen. They've got a great deal of experience on defense as well, and then the best collection of skill that we've seen on offense and the best offensive tackle we've seen this year.

Just I don't really need to go on and praise them like they deserve, but I think everybody understands that they got a great football team and they've got as much confidence, if not more than anybody in the country, and they're playing in an aggressive manner, a physical manner, and they've been there, done that.

Like I said, they've been the standard in college football that we all aspire to be, and we're building towards that.

Q. You mentioned that they've been patient in how they bring on Hurts. Does that give you less to account for defensively?

Q. Does that give you less to account for defensively because they're limiting the game plan for the freshman?
BRENT VENABLES: I don't know what they're limiting. I don't really know. I think they're really multiple in what they do, in the ways they run the football, how they formation you, their run/pass RPOs, their heavy play action, max it up, taking shots with cross-country type routes.

I don't think that they're necessarily limiting. I don't know. And it really doesn't matter. What we see is kind of what we're preparing for, and we feel like they're very multiple and have had incredible balance all year long.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, yeah. We haven't covered him. Didn't cover him very well. We left him -- didn't touch him three times for touchdowns. One went down to whatever, the 2-yard line, but, you know, he's catching the ball untouched for two touchdowns and the other one he gets down to the 2-yard line. We missed a tackle in the flat, turned him loose, busted coverage on the sideline route. And then they got him on the seam route on just a three-deep bust.

So that's what I remember. He had a career day. He's a great talent and they're finding all kind of ways to get him the ball, some of the same ways. And we need to defend him better.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Hopefully, we play with better discipline. I think that we've shown our body of work through 14 games as we played more disciplined, a lot less explosive plays on the year, and it's night and day to what we were a year ago.

So I think better understanding, better discipline, a little bit better focus. I think our team, this has been a very low maintenance team to coach, been a lot of fun. Just very few distractions and it's a group of guys that have great humility, let you coach them hard, and they get the big picture.

I think that they want it every bit as much as us as coaches and fans.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: I think so. For fans, in particular. For us, obviously, you get to this game, no matter who you're playing, they're going to have your full attention. But we just played them a year ago so nobody respects them more than us.

All the success that they've had over the last whatever it's been, six, seven, eight years, what you respect the most is that they've earned it. They're not getting a hall pass for anything, and their body of work is better than anybody in college football.

So that's exciting. Our guys recognize the challenge that we have in front of us, but we also know that we can play with them, and we're going to need to play well.

We're going to need to be incredibly physical to have any chance whatsoever, and then we're going to have to really complement in all three phases, in limiting turnovers, playing well in the kicking game, and then again playing physical on defense. Going to be a great challenge for us.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Well, it's like any offense that they have a dual threat quarterback. When things break down, he's the trump card. Those guys are hard to account for and they stress you out in both your coverage package and your pressure package and what you're doing up front.

You really have to account for him like it's option football. And then, at the same time, he's a guy that can improvise and buy time. So in the back end, they're going to have to play -- they have to be prepared to cover for a while.

So that's a great challenge as well.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Well, again, you start with Alabama's defense, you know. You get on this stage, again, and it's any game, you know, to create momentum and create points.

The turnovers, it's deflating. It's hard to overcome when you loses the turnover battle at every level of football, and it was a close game until late in the game.

Alabama's experienced. They've been there, they've done that. They're physical. They can run the football and control the line of scrimmage and play great in the kicking game and play great defense. That's a formula for success.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: They're a good football team. They're well coached. They've got players. They're long in the back end. They can cover and they're physical up front. All those things.

They've got good personnel, good schemes, good coaches.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Well, we feel like we've got good players too, absolutely. Our players have earned the right to be here, and they have, again, the body of work, how they've played this year.

They've done a great job, exceeded our expectations. If they're anything, they're tough. If they're anything, they've been coachable. And it's a group of guys that are looking forward for the opportunity to match up. Again, see how we match up against the best.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Well, I mean, we're not sitting watching a whole bunch of things other than hey, guys, these are the mistakes that we've made and you can't make these mistakes.

Go back out and whether it's, again, poor tackling on the perimeter, not getting off the blocks, turning guys just completely loose in coverage, giving up explosive play on -- you know, missing a fit on third and one that goes for 50.

You don't deserve to win when you do those things. So if we've done anything, we've pointed those things back -- you know, pointed those things out to them without perpetuating the negative.

And then at the same time knowing, again, I think our guys just have confidence because of the way we've played this year. And I think we're a more complete team than we were a year ago. I think that we've been playing with good discipline too all the way through the end of the season.

So it's been a fun year because of the lack of distractions and because of the focus of our guys. They've been hungry. They haven't been satisfied all year. But it's neat to see them have the kind of success they've had for how hard they've worked since last January.

Q. With the change in offensive coordinator, how does it affect how you guys prepare for this Alabama offense?
BRENT VENABLES: It really -- if this was the semifinal game, you got three and a half, four weeks. Maybe you dig a little deeper, you chase some ghosts.

But this deep, with this short amount of time, you've got to feel like he's had some influence. I think they come from the same coaching tree. We'll have some wrinkles and his DNA will probably be a little bit different on how he views things.

We're just going to have to adjust to things as the game goes.

Q. What do you know about a Steve Sarkisian offense?
BRENT VENABLES: Again, I think he's a west coast type of guy, likes to run the football, get the ball to his playmakers, attack you vertically.

He's going to move, jump, trade, shift, motion, all those things. And he's going to try to help his guys to have success. He's had incredible success as a play caller, as an offensive coach, as a head coach, and so he's going to -- again, he's a smart guy that knows how to use the weapons they have.

They're three-deep at running back. They're terrific players, have got the best skill we've seen on the outside, including their tight end. And, again, a freshman that's playing out of his mind with the kind of defense and the kicking game that they have.

So they've got a complete team and I'm sure that he's well aware of how he needs to utilize, again, the players that he does without wholeheartedly changing everything.

Q. Has the change been motivation to you?
BRENT VENABLES: I don't see real motivation. Again, the motivation is just what we have at stake, as much as anything. Play for a national championship against the best in college football the last six, seven, eight years, whatever it's been.

Nobody's done it better for longer, more consistently than Alabama. So, you know, it's a great matchup and one I know our players are looking forward to. They've got incredible respect for Alabama and the challenge that's sitting in front of us.

Again, it's incredibly exciting to be here, represent Clemson and the ACC. We've earned our way, and as a coach that's what you're most proud of. Our players deserve to be here, and Monday can't get here soon enough.

Q. Are you going to keep an extra eye on Alabama's tight end, O.J. Howard, this year?
BRENT VENABLES: We completely ignored him, I know, last year. So we did a terrible job at defending him, obviously. And if we do it again, we'll lose again.

Q. What is it about him that allows him to get by?
BRENT VENABLES: He's talented. When you bust coverages, you know, he can catch it when he's wide open. We did a poor job, they did a great job of blocking us on the perimeter. On the one second and 12 there, they threw it behind the line of scrimmage, they blocked us, we didn't get off the blocks, we lost our leverage and he runs up the sideline.

He's fast and talented enough to outrun us so he's a great player.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Probably just his toughness, his passion, his willingness to work. He's a great leader. He makes people around him better. He's a team guy and very selfless.

But he's over the top in regards to work ethic and passion and just relentless. Very hard to satisfy and that's what you want from your guys. The best players bring it every day. And if Ben is something, he brings it every day, very consistent.

Q. Coach, when you look at Jalen, what is it about him that stands out? Obviously, athletic. Got all kinds of talent. But trying to game plan for him like that, after J.T., you all shut him down.
BRENT VENABLES: Well, again, I think the players that he has complementing him systematically, I think they do a good job of putting normal a competitive winning position, not asking him to do things that he can't do or may be not able to do yet.

Got great players around him, starting with that monster offensive line. Be the best tackle we've seen, start with him, Cam Robinson at left tackle.

And, you know, so they can move you at the point of attack. And then those three backs are terrific. Scarbrough, you know, set the record last week, I believe, in their bowl game, almost 200 yards rushing and a bunch of yards after contact. Got that big, physical presence that you can't simulate in the scout team.

And, again, easily the best receivers, collectively, with the tight end that we've seen all year. So they do a great job of getting the ball in their playmakers' hands and then he can make it all happen.

Q. Success breeds confidence. Clearly, you guys had tons of success against Ohio State. How much has that carried over into practice and preparation especially from your defensive line and how well they played?
BRENT VENABLES: Nothing's more discouraging if you're limping. I hate winning when you don't play well. I just -- it's better than the alternative, playing great and losing, but we're playing well right now. Our guys have a lot of confidence. We got a good chemistry. As a team, you win the way we did, obviously it's a shot in the arm.

We're not limping into this game. We're healthy and we've got a little bit of depth. Again, our guys feel, again, we've earned our right to be here and, again, it's going to be a great matchup.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, they've just picking them -- pick the position, and they've got the guy coming out of high school. They do a great job. It's one thing to get good players. A lot of teams, you know, say top 10, top 15 teams have good players. They do a great job at coaching them and developing them, putting them in a winning position and competitive position.

So they do a great job with that, obviously, and there's no prima donna in their guys. They're tough, they play hard, they're relentless. And so that's why there's no margin for error.

And I'm proud of our guys and our coaches too. I think our guys emulate a lot of the same things and have a lot of the same intangibles in their toughness and discipline and their effort and their physicality.

Q. Coach, you've been with a lot of really good programs throughout your coaching tree. What is it about Clemson and what have you guys done as a coaching staff to get this team to the national power level that guys are?
BRENT VENABLES: It starts with recruiting, and you've got to have some guys from a foundational standpoint that give you a chance.

Every level of football, I think really goes through how well your quarterback play is. And so you look at, again, I got here, Tajh Boyd is here, and then he had a great collection of skill players around him as well.

I think the lines of scrimmage have continued to evolve and improve on both sides of the football during my short tenure here, five years. But the quarterback play has been something that's been terrific, all the while as we're building.

Again, always had skill players, long, athletic guys in the back end and we've been able to replace those guys year in and year out and continue to develop and build our offensive and defensive lines have been the biggest things to me.

And then, again, we've got a great brand. You come see Clemson, it's a beautiful place. It's got a great family vibe to it. Coach Swinney's as good as there is in the business as far as being a mentor, father figure, motivator. Very inspiring.

He's got a unique ability to make people around him feel better about themselves and bring out the best qualities, and I think he's developed a staff that's had continuity and that are selfless in how they work and that believe in his philosophy and everybody's pulling the rope in the same direction.

And then the support that we have from an administration standpoint, the three-headed monster in Mr. Radakovich and President Clements and Coach Swinney all supporting each other and just forming a great tandem.

You have to have all those things to have the kind of success, the consistent success that all programs aspire to have. And nobody does it better than Clemson in Death Valley on game day. It's a special, special place.

So Coach Swinney does a terrific job just managing the whole operation and, again, the discipline, the accountability, you have to have those things, the toughness. That's got to be a core philosophy of his, and it is. And we all support it.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: The third and one, short yardage, 50-yard play. We missed a fit. Just a big play that we gave up. Those are the things that jump out to me.

You don't deserve to win when you do those things, and explosive plays and turnovers. The line of scrimmage, really felt the line of scrimmage was a push and we were good enough up front, and that's where it all starts. But we weren't near disciplined enough or smart enough as coaches to prevent the big plays that ultimately were the difference in the game.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: You don't want to perpetuate the negative. We all were in it together so you don't have to have a sit-down pow-wow to understand, you know, the enormity of having the opportunity and coming on the short end of it.

That's a part of this game. You do it long enough, those failures help you grow. And really believe that we're a better team this year because of it.

Not just because, oh, we were that close and so now we have confidence. It goes well beyond that. The focus in our special teams, needing to improve those, for example. Having a big emphasis on limiting the explosive plays this year, being better.

We were very -- we were a top ten defense in about every category a year ago, but we were one of the worst in the country in explosive plays that we gave up. So I think we've cut those in half this year just through better discipline, better focus, more knowledge, all those things.

So through those failures, you learn a lot and you mature. Again, none of us take it for granted that we're back here again. Oh, that's the goal. We'll see you in Tampa. That sounds good, but it's really hard to do.

So I think our guys respect that, value that, and hopefully we're a little bit more focused and we're a little bit smarter this year.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: I think my wife might have texted me. I don't know. We're watching, getting ready for practice, whatever. And it really did nothing. Oh, no, now what. Hey, man, we've got whatever it is, four days to get ready. I don't know what it is.

But they're not going to, you know, put a whole different offense. They'll some wrinkles and some of his decisions as play caller may vary different. We're going to have to adjust.

The scout team, let me give a shout out to our scout team. Best scout team in America. Really, though, our success on defense, they've played a very big part in that. I mean that sincerely. They know that. You've got to have a great look week in and week out.

So anyway, we found out. They've been together. They're not on two different planets as far as I'm a triple option guy and, you know, I'm a five-wide fun and gun.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, I mean, you know, but they're going for use players a little bit different. Did they have that Polynesian H-back that they had at 'SC? I don't know. They've got 88, but his skill set is different than the Polynesian, you know, 5'10", 250 guy that was like man, he's a good athlete.

So they're good coaches and they use their players based on the players that they have. They take advantage of their skill set and tweak things and so this year's Alabama, you know, the whole season, is different than last year's Alabama in a lot of ways.

Some similarities, but they tweaked it to be built around that quarterback and some of the things that he could do and take advantage of his skill set.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah. I've known Jeremy a long time and he's had great success. I've got incredible respect for Jeremy and how he's come through the coaching ranks and the product he puts out there on the field. Very disciplined, tough, physical, aggressive.

Jeremy's a great guy, terrific recruiter. Alabama's lucky to have him. He's taken them to another level on defense this year. So happy for his success.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: It's hard to do during the season. Occasionally, if I see something when you're watching the game, you text one of your analysts or whoever, and usually they're doing the same thing. They're already ready for that call or that text.

But there's some similarities in what they're doing. But out of season is when you kind of have the time to do those types of things.

Q. Is Coach Saban and what he's done at Alabama defensively, you say when you're out of season, you're not looking at offenses, is that something -- I assume as a defensive coordinator, that's sort of a guy that you want to see what they do?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah. We've gotten together I think probably three times while at Oklahoma and here in the out of season. Have to be careful about what we agree to or what we say next time, I guess.

But, no, you know, it started years ago when Urban was at Florida talking about all that three-back offense and the option principles and the T-bone, all that.

But, yeah, we've got great respect for them. I think you'd be foolish not to look over the neighbor's fence and see what they got in their back yard because they've, again, done it better than anybody.

Q. What is it that's made them? I mean, they have great players, obviously.
BRENT VENABLES: Don't minimize that, because it does help. But their good players played tough, physical, disciplined. They play hard. They're in good schemes. They're smart coaches, put them in competitive -- they're not hanging them out there on an island. I think all those things combined are important.

But when their guy's bigger and faster and stronger and has the same kind of intelligence and discipline and plays tough and physical, then, you know, it's hard.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, they do a good job. I mean, all their schemes are good. So there's nothing like oh, man, what the heck was Alabama thinking there, you know. I mean, it's all good.

Q. Is he just basic, you know --
BRENT VENABLES: I would definitely not call it basic. I call it discipline. They're tough. Their players play hard. They play physical. They know what they're doing. They're very well coached.

I think as a defense, they play intelligently, and they have all the talent, plus the intangibles, plus the physicality, you know.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Well, I think the number one thing is guys trying to do too much in that game. We knew it during the middle of the game and just guys trying to do just a little bit too much.

I equate it, because it had a lot of option principles, I equate it to the dive player not tackling the dive. And that's where it all starts. And then everything else stinks from there.

And, yeah, maybe it isn't gashing you for 15 and 20 and 40 a snap, but it's getting five and eight and now you're at third and 1 instead of third and 6 or third and 8 and we're behind the chains all day because of that.

We did not play with the kind of discipline that we had all year. That's the number one thing we learned from it. We're fortunate to be sitting here, despite losing that game late. But at the same time, when you look at everybody else's body of work, again very proud and deserve to be here.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: I mean, I didn't say that, but I think he's very multiple and does a great job as a play caller, without question. They've got good schemes, and he's going to do a great job at LSU. He's a very good coach.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: It was business to me. I don't know what planet they're from. But you know what? I also -- and this is just how I'm wired. This game week is no different. People say, how could that be? That's just the way it is.

It's like I remember Coach Saban saying a few weeks back, it's not okay to not play well. It's not okay to lose. Oh, it's okay if we lose this week. That's not how we're wired.

So that's a little bit disappointing, to be honest, for me personally to hear. But, you know, I'm not them. But it's always business to me, whether it's the national championship, it's the opener at Auburn, it's the Pitt game. Just go down the list.

We coach it the same, we practice the same, watch film the same and don't try to make it out bigger. I think the number one thing is you have to prep them for a little bit more attention, all the people that can affect them, that influence them, making it bigger than it is.

Yeah, this is for the national championship, but at the same time it's a game of football. Put your hand in the dirt and, again, stance alignment assignment key. Play physical, get off of blocks, tackle, cover, all those things.

So handle the highs and the lows, you got to stay faceless in a lot of ways. They're going to make plays. You don't have to make every play. Again, get your guys to play loose, confident but at the same time tough, disciplined and have no distractions.

So I'm glad they say they're all business. I'd hope that they'd be any time we play.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: We've done a little homework that way. And, again, I think there's more similarities than not. He's going to have some wrinkles. We'll have to adjust. His DNA and his instincts as a play caller will vary. To what degree, we'll find out.

And that's what you don't have. You don't have data, real, hard core data. Where he is today may be different than where he was two years ago. How he thinks, how he looks at things, how he would handle things, what he wants to do against certain schemes.

So, again, we can't wholeheartedly change what we do. We need to be prepared to make some adjustments and, again, still comes down to I think the fundamentals of the game will not change. The winner's going to be the team that wins the line of scrimmage, wins the turnover battle.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, I mean, there's some truth to that. I use a little bit of experience, my first game ever calling a game was the 2004 national championship against LSU, Nick Saban.

Mike Stoops had taken the Arizona job and I think we lost 21-14. I think Marcus Spears pick sixed us. So we gave up a couple scores. We played really pretty good defense. They had no problem, you know, executing when they had to.

But we were in it. It was kind of a stalemate on our side of the ball and them offensively. We tried to make sure that we didn't completely disrupt things on defense and have -- we tried to do what we did.

So that's a real limited amount of experience that I have.

Q. That's interesting. I didn't realize that. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Expectation? If we're going to win, we're going to have to play well up front. Point blank. You can't be getting blown off the line of scrimmage and them mauling you and then let's miraculously find a way to win. That's never part of the plan.

Just like for them, you have to establish the line of scrimmage. You don't necessarily have to overwhelm anybody to win the game and to feel like you're holding point. That's the biggest thing, matching up well and guys, again, obviously making the plays that they need to make and that they should make.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: I didn't really feel it was that challenging. We were on the field a bunch, though, and we kept it interesting. Any time you let a team hang around, you're asking for it.

I thought, for the most part, we really played well defensively until -- I thought they executed some plays in the last couple drives to put a couple of scores in late in that game to make it even more interesting.

But I thought our guys, on defense, played really pretty good. But we let them hang around. We let them stay within striking distance. I think as that game went on, they grew confident and we didn't play as well as we're capable of playing. But Troy played well, though.

Q. Brent, the way you shut down Ohio State's run game, what elements of that can transfer and carry over to this game?
BRENT VENABLES: Well, you keep a perspective on it. They threw it 21 of their first 27 snaps, I believe. We wouldn't have called that.

So, obviously, our guys were physical up front. They did a great job setting the edge and all those things. That's a big part of it, that disruption and playing on their line of the line of scrimmage. We did a great job of that.

I think, as much as anything, confidence and being in a rhythm on defense and our guys really feeling good about themselves. Not a better time during the course of the year than right now to feel like you're playing well and being in a good rhythm.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Me? You want the real story? Truth serum here? Tajh does a great job, man. He's done it. You can tell he's done it his whole life. He's got a good physical presence, big arm, quick release. He understands all the RPOs, that kind of thing. What he doesn't do is blow that whistle right before the snap because an adjustment wasn't made and all that.

So I've got to help him with that, but Tajh is -- this rule's really helped us, no question.

Q. If you had to pinpoint a weakness of Jalen Hurts --
BRENT VENABLES: A weakness, yeah. I don't see one. They're in the national championship. So he's played out of his mind, in my mind.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Great athlete. Got great quickness as much as he's got the power and the speed. He's a very good athlete. Stays on his feet, runs through trash. He's not a straight line guy. He's more athletic than you want him tock.

It was the difference in last week's game, physically imposed his will, had a couple of long, explosive runs where he's hit at or near the line of scrimmage and makes three, four guys miss, breaks the tackles and then he's fast enough to leave them.

He's a home run threat. All three of their backs, terrific players. Had a great year running the football and doing it all in different kinds of ways, whether it's the heavy, end over toss sweep, student body right or left or right downhill inside zone or the quarterback read play. They kind of do it all.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Again, all their backs do a lot of good things. Instinctual, protect, catch the ball well, can run inside, strong between the tackles, can accelerate and get outside of you as well.

So I think he's from Kentucky, right? Yeah, I think Kentucky thought he was going to come to them, or they were hopeful. But he played well in that game as well. But very, very good player.

Q. You were talking about the scout team earlier. Darien Rencher, he said he's learned a lot. How has he helped this team?
BRENT VENABLES: Well, first of all, Darien Rencher is going to play for Clemson one day. Real proud of Darien. He takes every rep and he's got instincts. He's got speed. He's got good balance. He's been a great look for us. Arguably the best scout team running back since I've been there.

He's a workhorse, compliance without complaint. Coach I know is real proud of Darien and everything that he told us he'd be. He's been that and then some. So the way he practices helps everybody else around him on scout team practice, the same type of toughness and grit.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Just discipline. Knowledge and discipline. Before the ball's snapped, put your eyes where they belong, align them the right way. The knowledge of knowing what other players around you are doing and then the discipline just to do your job.

In you're supposed to read two, don't stare in the backfield. Just little stuff. It's elementary to have any chance to have success on defense. Just like the nose guard, if he's supposed to be in a 2-I and he lines up in a shade but he puts his eyes on the guard, you're going to get annihilated. You have no chance.

Or a triple option, if your dive player doesn't squeeze and close, every snap the whole game, they're going to kill you. It's just that type of discipline in the back seven as much as anything.

I think being embarrassed, watching that tape that was entirely too long a year ago, we were dysfunctionally good. We're top ten in defense in about every category a year ago and one of the worst teams in the nation, if not the worst, in explosive plays given up. That's like two alter egos. That does not go hand in hand.

If you want to be something as a coach, either side of the ball in any sport, play great defense, have toughness, have discipline. And discipline and explosive plays do not go hand in hand.

So we've been better that way by a long ways. We've improved dramatically. Although we had three new starters in the back end. And I think a little more trust, a little bit more focus, and, again, learning some hard lessons a year ago will do that to you.

Q. (No microphone) said that he's noticed that you have been careful about striking a balance between chasing the perfect formation versus making sure that they're lined up and organized. He said he's noticed you've been trying not to over complicate things to be sure that you're in something that works. Does that make sense?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, that's fair to say. We've got good players and so you don't want to screw it up for them. When our guys know what they're doing, they're going to play well, play fast.

Sometimes you're trying to give them a lay-up and you know how to get there so you try to pave the way, set the pick or the screen for them that way.

But I do feel, just from my confidence standpoint, in dealing with them intimately like we work every day, day in and day out together, feel like this is a group of guys that get it, that understand, that are knowledgeable, that make all those calls good.

Because there's no magical calls. Again, those are the guys out there that are covering, tackling, getting off of blocks, and they've done a great job this year in their preparation.

Q. (No microphone) never seen a group grow up as fast as the secondary. They function completely different than they did before.
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah. And really, it's from the beginning of the year to where we're at right now. It's been kind of by committee outside at one of the corners, and Van and Jadar have just taken off.

Again, just doing the simple things well. They may not make -- and they both had their share of really good plays, whether it's Van's interception when you're like just get -- knock the ball down on fourth and whatever. We're going to get the ball at the 40. And just knock it down. And he catches it and then he starts running out. You're like dang it, and then they takes it back 80 some yards.

Jadar's had a bunch of incredible plays in the back end this year, where you've really gone out and gotten the ball out of the sky. I think, without question, that was an area going into the year, although we were young up front, we really felt pretty good, because you had good players there that were replacing some of the guys that left.

But that back end didn't know what the chemistry would be, the play making would be, the discipline would be. And it's been better than we hoped. And it has. It's been a group that's really gotten better from the beginning of the year to where we're at right now.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Well, we're going to have to look at the tape that we've been looking at and the team that got them to the national championship, study the skill players, what they like to do, both the run and the throw game.

The offense is built to the quarterback's strengths. And like any smart coach will do, don't ask him to do things that he's really not capable of doing. There might be some things that he's better at that we've not seen on tape. I don't know.

The unknown, we'll have to adjust to. The DNA, the data's not there on this year's team. And so we're going to have to adjust to that too. The DNA as a play caller, his instincts, his go-to, things of that nature. You feel like there's more similarities than there's differences. They're not two different planets. Their coaching tree is the same. How they'll handle certain situations will probably differ to a certain degree.

Again, sometimes you can over complicate things, and we're just going to have to do what we do and play well and make some adjustments as the game goes on.

Q. When you heard they were going to make that switch, what's the first thing you did as a defensive coordinator when you had to prepare?
BRENT VENABLES: We started just looking up a few things, checking with some people that have played against Sark and look at some things that they've done both at Washington and Southern Cal.

Again, they're smart coaches. Like I was talking earlier, you had the Polynesian H-back at 'SC that was whatever he was, 5'10 1/2", 245 pounds that maybe Alabama has O.J. Howard, you know, they can flex out in the receiver position. So how they utilize him may be different, but they had the other guy in a two-back. But they do all the split flow stuff that they did then too. So there's more similarities.

Again, they're good coaches, both good coaches, and Sark's not going to screw it up either. He's got great players. They've had an incredible season. They've had tremendous balance. They're physical up front. They've got three terrific backs. They can get them the ball handing it off a variety of ways like they have all year. Very multiple in what they do.

And then in the throwing game, involving both the backs, the receivers, the tight end, it's not like, well, they've been in the I-back all year and then they take shots and occasionally they'll boot and then they'll throw a screen in. That's not been this offense.

They've been complex, multiple week to week. Different delivery. Some of the same things that they do, like good teams do, they're going to get really good at what they do. It still comes down to execution and making competitive plays.

So don't want to make it too big of a deal. We'll see. We're going to get into it and we're going to find out. And like I said, there's going to be some things that are different and not real -- we're not going to sit here and stress about things that we can't control.

When we get to game day, we're doing some things that don't match and don't fit up, we'll have to change it. And they'll be subtle changes.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: We need to play well up front and we need to limit the explosive plays. Those are the two things. Got to play -- how did you play up front? We played good. We played really good.

So that's not earth shattering. When everything else is even, usually those -- the line of scrimmage, the turnovers, the explosive plays usually determine the winner.

Sometimes you can lose those things against an inferior opponent and still win the game and we've done that a few times this year. Maybe not the line of scrimmage. Maybe haven't dominated the line of scrimmage like we want. Lost the turnover battle and we still won.

But you don't go in the game -- you're not going to do that against these boys. It's not a matter if you lose. It's by how bad you lose if those things happen.

Q. Coach, coming so close to winning last year, was it tough for you guys to get up for Troy?
BRENT VENABLES: Not for me, no. And I don't think our players. I think you discount maybe Troy went in and did some things they hadn't done all year on tape and they had been preparing.

Maybe one particular player doesn't have a great game and that affects everybody and you're not able to get into a rhythm and complement each other as a team.

So, you know, everybody has those games that maybe don't come quite as easy as we all would like. But to say Alabama affected the Troy game, I don't -- good question, but I don't buy into all of that.

Q. (No microphone). Do you get everybody's best shot? Is everybody geared up to play Clemson because you're one of the best teams?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, but I don't think -- it's just last year, but I do think that they just watched the tape. I think we've got good players. I think we've got good quality schemes. Our guys are coached well. Our guys play hard.

So I think that, you know, that they played in the national championship I think lends credibility to your program and kind of stamps it. Not that we're looking for that. I think as much as anything, we want to be a consistent program that stands for all those things I just said, for what's right. Tough, physical, disciplined, play hard, coachable. We don't want any prima donnas. Go somewhere else. And we're consistent, that we're not Johnny come lately and they had their nice little run and then they fall off into anonymity.

Nobody wants to be that. So I think we've had great continuity. Good quarterback play has been a constant and at every level of football, I think you have to have good quarterback play to have a consistent chance to win, and we've been fortunate to have that with, again, my short time.

You had Tajh and then even Cole Stoudt came in and was the MVP against Oklahoma. And then Deshaun's been, you know, he's been a real special player.

And we're not going away. And I say that very respectfully and humbly, but we're not. We're built for the long-term. Every program may have a transitional baptism where you maybe have an influx of players or you have a new, young quarterback.

Look at Alabama and the surrounding, supporting cast really helped Jalen Hurts have the kind of year that he has, and he's a great player in his own right.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: Well, well felt pretty good up front. We knew that we weren't going to be real deep maybe at defensive end and that was the one concern, knowing that, hey, maybe Christian Wilkins can slide out. So we started working him just a little bit there. Thankfully we did, because he got a great deal of experience even in our spring game, not knowing that Austin Bryant would break his foot, you know, two weeks or ten days before we play Auburn. Austin was the starter.

So all that work that we did in the spring, trying to develop some depth with a starter, you know, by playing more than one position. Really concerned about our depth and lack of experience at safety. Didn't know how they would play.

And then at the other corner spot opposite Tank, just didn't -- that back seven was probably -- and really the back four was the biggest concern. I believe we lost five safeties in our two-deep before we ever played. From the Alabama game, you our starting nickel in Travis Blanks, our starting strong in Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green.

We kicked -- we had to dismiss a second team safety that we had trained up for a couple of years, and then we had another one that, Korrin Wiggins, was a starter the year before that tore his ACL that missed all spring.

So that was really the concern. Had no idea that we would play at this level, and our guys have played with great maturity. I think the guys that had been around -- it's not like they were a bunch of freshmen. So Jadar Johnson had been around and he's played all year like a veteran. Van Smith has taken his game to another level.

And if they've been anything back there, they've been really pretty consistent, if not spectacular. On any given week, we've really been a consistent unit that's had great cohesion, a disciplined, focused group that's willing to work.

And really, those are the things that really matter more than anything. And from year to year, everything changes, whether it's the same group of players coming back. Might be the same guys but a different type of focus. Better or even worse.

The player or the group of players that say I'm coming back, well, how do they handle that? Do they come back and think, well, y'all owe me? Or I'm just going to enjoy this. I'm just going to have fun this last year and they don't grind or they don't focus, or maybe they are actually a distraction. That can happen too.

Managing that is not easy, but I think ultimately, it's the player's decision, on their mindset and their attitude. They really, as a defense, have played -- and Coach Swinney wouldn't say it because he's like, I think we'll be better. He said it.

As coaches, we deal with the every snap, day to day, and coaching every guy. We're always kind of coaching like this guy's going to get hurt. Then what are we going to do and living in that world.

So it's been a great group, a fun group to coach, only because as much as anything, that it's been a real low maintenance group of guys that, again, have played out of their minds.

Q. (No microphone).

Q. Coming from high school.
BRENT VENABLES: Just plug in. Get your teammates to respect you by not what you say and not by what others have said about you. Start over. Be willing to start over. The grind, the focus, the humility, the toughness. Be competitive.

The freshmen that play typically have a different level of maturity, how they handle adversity. They don't start feeling bad for themselves. They've got thick skin. They're a little bit straight-faced. They don't flinch. Coach, I got it.

The other ones are looking at you like, you didn't talk like this in recruiting, you know. Guys that just, you know have a different level of focus and toughness about them are ones that usually contribute and play more of a significant role than ones that want something for nothing.

We try to recruit that way. Look, brother, you're going to have to come and earn it. I'm not giving you anything, no promises, but you have an opportunity and you've got to do XYZ. You're going to work harder than you've ever worked in your life. I'm going to coach you harder than ever.

My expectation level for you is here. Not coaching you like, oh, you're just a freshman and then I can build in all these excuses for you for failure. There's no excuse for failure.

So I think you got to kind of coach them up before we ever get to the field. Winning in the mind is incredibly important before you ever win on the field. So I think prepping them for that and helping in that transition is important for us as leaders, coaches, as mentors for them.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: There are going to be. Let's face it. Not everything's going to be identical. The DNA is going to be a little bit different. What they are, we'll find out. And I think their system is their system, and he'll have a few new wrinkles, whether it's a presentation, how they get to the toss sweep or the jet sweep might be a little bit different than how they've gotten to it before.

We saw that last week with Ohio State. But every week, we try to, as we coach them and are watching film, we're like look, brother, we've shown you every look they've given us. And they're going to have another one. And just apply your rules, understand the people around you, understand the call.

You try to go from there, and you're hopeful. Just like the Virginia Tech game, the first play, they get into a formation, they sprint past on the very first play. They hadn't done that all year, but we pull it up, we scrape like you'd want them to scrape and we sack them on the very first play.

We hadn't worked that play one time, and that was -- we talked about that play this week. Look, fellas, it's not going to be everything that we've been working. There will be something that's going to be different. Just apply your rules. Stance alignment assignment key. If he tells you it's run, however you're supposed to fit the run, fit it. If it's a pass, understand the people around you, what your job is.

It's really that simple. And when you get hurt is when you start freaking out and guys try to do things that they're not supposed to do.

Q. (No microphone).
BRENT VENABLES: I love it, because I think there's more differences than similarities. With defensive ends and the responsibilities, I think it's more stressful now than ever to play defensive end in college football.

I think they get more looks, more false reads, more things happen at them really fast that they have to make really quick decisions. I just think that there's more stress on them more now than ever and I'm glad we've got the two best in the business at coaching those two groups.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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