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January 5, 2019

Brent Venables

Santa Clara, California

Q. I wanted to ask something a little off topic. Have you thought yet about the fact that Jake's got a chance to win a National Championship and you -- you know, he was there on the front lines watching you do it, and now he's got a chance to do it, and it's another thing you guys can share.
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, it is. It's definitely going to be a different experience for him, and certainly I've had an opportunity to really appreciate that. Not talk about it a whole lot with him, but just enjoying the moment together. It is different. It's different for me as much as it is for him as well.

Q. You know, a couple of years ago, when Jamie and Judith did it after their dad Jeff did it, I mean, that must have been a pretty special moment for them too. Have they kind of shared anything about that bond?
BRENT VENABLES: Absolutely. I know just hearing them talk about it -- dad doesn't have anything on them yet, or now rather, but now they get an opportunity to pull ahead, you know, playing for another one.

Q. I've got to ask a football question. How are you guys going to slow down Tua?
BRENT VENABLES: It's a great challenge. Ask everybody else that's played him. We've just got to play well collectively and try to limit the explosiveness of what they do and play with discipline and rush lanes and things of that nature. So it's a great, great challenge.

Q. Were you pleased with Albert's performance last week and Nyles and the other guys who came in?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, the people that got in there really did a nice job. Albert just had a completely different -- all of them had a completely different mindset when they knew Dexter wasn't going to be in there. So have a great appreciation for his stick-to-itiveness and his toughness and being ready for the moment and really, really played well.

Q. Who played Tua on the offensive side?
BRENT VENABLES: Ben Batson did. Ben did great. He can really sling it, and he's very athletic and can run around really well.

Q. A lot has been made about this being your fourth meeting. How different is this compared to the previous games?
BRENT VENABLES: For me, it's like every year is always different and every game is always different. I've always approached the game from a coaching standpoint and a preparation standpoint that way. Do you have some data to rely on when there's continuity with the opponent? Absolutely. But you look at each year just a little bit different and a life of its own, and certainly that's how we're approaching this.

What they're doing now is -- that's enough, as opposed to worrying about what they've done in the past. But, yeah, they've had a lot of turnover on their staff.

Q. Do you have to tell your players what they saw two years ago might not be the same?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, there's some things they may have had success with a year ago or even two years ago -- I do know that Coach Saban's still involved in every aspect of their program. So I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't have that little Mike Leach sized sheet and says, hey, these are the four things that you make sure you put in the game plan. That's just a courtesy check to see if you've got issues fixed.

Q. What's the biggest challenge when trying to prepare to go against Tua and this Alabama team?
BRENT VENABLES: It's him. His accuracy, his competitiveness, his athletic ability, his ability to improvise. He's got the best players on the planet around him at every position, and they're two and three deep. They get whoever they want, and they've got them all on their roster right now.

They probably have offered maybe 15 percent of the guys that are on our team and on our side of the ball on defense. I bet you that might be pushing it, maybe a corner, maybe two corners and a D-lineman. After that, they ain't offering any of our guys. Maybe Tre Lamar. I think Tre Lamar too.

So that being said, just they've got great, great skill. They've got great size and physicality up front. And they've got the best of the best across the board -- the tight end that's all world. So that helps too. But Tua in himself is a monster to handle. And just again, his accuracy is just like our guy. Everybody loves Trevor Lawrence, and that's who Tua is. And Trevor's a very good athlete, but I think Tua's a little bit different in some ways, from a mobility standpoint, just different.

Q. With that in mind, how much pressure is on you?
BRENT VENABLES: I don't -- same pressure that was on me a week ago against Notre Dame and against Georgia Southern or just go down the list of the teams. I don't ever look at this pressure -- to me, my responsibility is to do as good a job as I can to get my guys and my colleagues -- to do my job. I don't have to do anything more or anything less. I'm not going to make up any magical calls. That can certainly put them in a bad position.

But you've got to play with leverage. You've got to get off blocks. You've got to make competitive plays when the ball's in the air. You've got to beat a guy one-on-one in pressure situations. You've got to tackle well. You've got to put your eyes on the right things. Those are what make calls good calls. I've never looked at it that way in my entire career that all of a sudden this game, there's different pressure. Every game you've got a responsibility to do and don't make any more of it than exactly that.

Q. Any part of this experience before that can help you this time around?
BRENT VENABLES: Maybe for our players. There's a comfort level in who we're seeing and knowing they can compete with them, but that's probably it.

Q. What kind of challenge does Alabama's offense present?
BRENT VENABLES: All -- all of their receivers. They line them up everywhere -- slot, inside, outside. They're fast. They're explosive. They play so hard. I don't know how -- they don't rotate a ton of guys, but, man, they run their routes so hard and so explosive and catch the ball well. Run away from leverage, go and compete when the ball's in the air. They all play with a dog mentality, just they're going to get after you. Whether they're cracking you in the run game or running a cross country route, man, this is the best of the best that we're facing.

Q. Does this team put more pressure on your defense than anything you've seen?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, I mean, because it's the best group of players we've seen. As I was saying a few minutes ago, they hand pick the best of the best in the United States, and they get most of them. Like I said, they didn't offer many of our guys, so you've got a little bit of -- you know, nobody's feeling sorry for us. Trust me, I get it. But the reality is they offered probably Tre Lamar, maybe both of our corners, A.J. and Trayvon, and then Christian Wilkins. Didn't offer anybody else, none, zero. On the flip side, we recruited a bunch of their guys.

But it is what it is. They've got great skill and great quarterback play. I think that's a big thing too. Every level of football, the quarterback play, it's critical, and this guy can do it all. And then they've got the guys up front in the running backs, they're three deep. It's disgustingly deep. They're just really, really skilled and really confident and very well coached. So you can't just like pick your poison.

Q. It seems to me that the guy that does the best job Monday night getting the quarterback off his spot wins.
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, I think -- you know, it's more than just that, but I think disrupting the quarterback and affecting him at the right times is important. Let's face it, we're going to have to play well. You don't show up here and then slop around and not do X, Y, Z and have a chance to win.

So obviously, being physical, getting off of blocks, making competitive plays in the air, playing with good technique, playing with discipline, discipline with your eyes, discipline in fitting the run game. And then when it comes to pressuring the quarterback, that could be first and ten on a play action or some block recognition is important with those guys up front. And then for us, again, you get to third down and having an opportunity to pin your ears back. A year ago, they did a good job of getting a lot of real third and medium, third and short situations, and it makes it hard to get off the field.

So you've got to play well early to get to situations where you get them in -- where they're a little bit more one-dimensional, and you've got to play well collectively on both sides of the ball. We didn't play well in the kicking game, and the field position wasn't great a year ago. Couldn't ever -- we were just backed up the whole game. So we've got to really complement one another. We certainly don't need to play perfect, but we need to play well and complement each other.

Q. (No microphone)?
BRENT VENABLES: I just think he's utilizing the weapons he has at his disposal the right way and putting a lot of strain and stress on the defense. They can run it. They can throw it. They can do it all. They're very, very well balanced, and they've got the best receivers in college football collectively, including their tight end, and then I don't think anybody in the country's got three backs like that. So with the offensive line that they got.

I think Mike's done a terrific job. I know he won the Broyles. He's got a head coaching job, and it's all well deserved. He's got an incredible group of players that play with a lot of confidence, having a lot of fun, and they're very aggressive in both their philosophy and how they play.

Q. Speaking of their offensive line, going up against Ross Pierschbacher the past couple of years, how does he come up against your defensive game plan?
BRENT VENABLES: Again, you can't go anywhere across the board and say, okay, we've got the favorable matchup here. They've got excellent players. We just hope to be a little bit better on Monday night. But run block and pass block, and there's great cohesion.

Brent Key has done a great job with those guys, and they play really, really well all year. When they need to move people, they know how to move them. Their backs play with a great deal of purpose and physicality as well. So they can do it all. They can spread you out and attack you four verts and protect, and they can get in all the heavy sets, wildcat, you just go down the list, and they've had great success doing it a lot of different ways.

Q. What do you think about that two quarterback style they rolled out in the first half?
BRENT VENABLES: It's good. Causes you different kinds of problems, different issues. They've done a nice job, and Jalen's really improved when he's gotten his opportunities to get in the game. He's really become a dynamic thrower as well as a runner and dual threat guy.

Q. Do you think Christian, as one of the few players that also got offered by Alabama, how did you see him grow, not just as a person, but as a player throughout his career?
BRENT VENABLES: He came in with a great deal of maturity. He transitioned so quickly out of high school. I think as much as anything, he's gotten a full beard now, but he's always been -- how he thinks, how he leads, how he works, Christian makes everyone feel like he's their best friend. He's got a unique quality in making everyone around him -- coaches, players -- better. He's just a real special guy.

But he's also worked hard at his craft, and to me the key ingredient there is just a willingness to work and really having a sense of humility, and he's been able to evaluate himself. A lot of guys come in, and they don't want to hear about their flaws. Day one, since day one, he's really bought in to little me, big team, and you're going to get what you earn. So he's the epitome of those things.

Q. Are you talking about the personnel at all? You mentioned only a handful of players were offered by Alabama.

Q. Do they have a chip on their shoulder?
BRENT VENABLES: I don't think that's what wins for you, but our guys know. They know.

Q. Is it hard?
BRENT VENABLES: They know how it went in the recruiting process, but we'll try to hang in there. Our guys, having been here and competed against them, again, they're the best of the best. They're the benchmark. They're the standard in college football. It's all well deserved, and, again, we're going to have to play really, really well to have a chance to win.

Q. What's your biggest challenge in preparing for this style of quarterback?
BRENT VENABLES: His ability to run, think quickly. His accuracy is uncanny. He's as accurate as there is in college football and maybe in a long time. How they run their RPOs, literally putting the ball in the belly over here and throwing the skinny post over here. I mean, who does that? Nobody is the answer, other than him.

He's got great skill around him, again, guys that can get it done up front, and terrific backs, as good as there is in college football wide receiver and the tight end. So we've got a dynamic group of players, but he's special in his own right. He'd be special on any team.

Q. How difficult will this be for you without Dexter?
BRENT VENABLES: I don't know. I haven't really thought about that. Dexter is a great player. Dexter wins a lot of one-on-one matchups, but we don't have Dexter. I'm not like, oh, my God, now there's no way we can win. I don't really look at it like that.

Q. What's that feeling like being an assistant coach after you beat Nick Saban for a player?
BRENT VENABLES: I don't know. I just think it's a fit. I never really looked at it as, oh, man, we beat Alabama on that guy. First of all, we haven't done it hardly at all. Secondly, I think it's all about the personal fit. So it's all about the kid -- if you happen to go head to head and then he comes your way, it's not because of you. There's so many other factors that go into it. So I don't ever look at it like that because we take in guys that not a lot of other people are recruiting, and they've done real well for us. And you get a ton of gratification out of that development and finding guys that are a little bit under the radar. So that's more of a big deal to me.

Q. Would it be career defining for an assistant coach maybe beating Alabama?
BRENT VENABLES: I don't know. I look for a little more fulfillment in different ways other than that. That's just me personally.

Q. (No microphone)?
BRENT VENABLES: I mean, very simple. You know, you're going to have to play more physical. You're going to have to get off of blocks. You're going to have to have a relentless sense of desperation, winning one-on-one when it comes to throwing situations. They don't have to do it by themselves. You need to play good coverage too, maybe the quarterback hold it a little longer. Really, you can't get blown off the line and smashed and expect to win.

But at the same time, there's 11 of us on defense, and we need to complement each other offense and defense. We're not going to go out and stop Alabama everything they do. They're going to make some plays. But just play with a great sense of toughness and passion and relentlessness as much as anything.

Q. (No microphone) but at the same time, he held his own really well. So honestly, how important is he?
BRENT VENABLES: Albert? Yeah, Albert's -- he's got as much talent as anybody. And a week ago was a great opportunity for him to show that. Albert's played a ton of meaningful snaps the last few years. Dexter, as a matter of fact, a year ago was about 50 percent of who he is now and missed three or four games a year ago, and Albert stepped in and played really good. So played well last week, and obviously, that helps going into this game.

But really excited about his opportunity and what he brings, the value he brings. He's looking forward to it. Spent a lot of time on it, to be honest. Okay, man, you've got to play out of your mind. Hey, man, you don't have to say it. Guy's got to show up. He's got to have that backer hitting that A-gap and the D-tackle next to him communicating with him. But he's just got to win his little matchup. So he'll be fine. Looking forward to watching it, he and Nyles and Jordan and those guys.

Q. What's been a couple things that you're most proud of the defense this year?
BRENT VENABLES: This year? Just our consistency. It's been a lot of fun to coach them. It's a group of guys that really enjoy each other. They've got great chemistry. Every year is different. Some years are easier than others, and this is a year that's really been easy. We've got great leadership at all three levels, and, again, a great group of guys that love and respect each other, that love Clemson. I think that's important.

Everybody -- all of them will tell you they have aspirations and goals and dreams to play beyond Clemson, but I don't think those goals have been put in front of the goals to play well for Clemson and for each other and for that football family. We don't take that lightly. We try to nourish that.

Coach Swinney does an amazing job of creating that buy-in and that loyalty. So these guys are the epitome of that, and they've stayed incredibly focused in the time of year and certainly for as many of the guys that are high profile guys, so to speak, there's a lot of temptations and potential distractions, and they've put all those aside.

That's not because we have the potential to win a National Championship. That's who they are. That's their DNA. That's the fiber, and it's not like that all the time. As a coach, you certainly don't take that for granted, and you certainly have a great deal of appreciation for that and for who they are, just as young people.

Q. (No microphone)?
BRENT VENABLES: Well, I don't really know or speak of Alabama because I'm not there, but I know that Coach Swinney creates an environment that's very -- it's good in this profession, very family oriented. It's a very close-knit staff. It's just kind of a philosophy of his in regards to team building, staff building, if you will. Just got great cohesion, chemistry, respect, appreciation for one another, appreciation for everyone in that building in the job that they do.

That all starts, again, with the philosophy of the head coach and what he's trying to build and the people that he surrounds himself with that are centered -- not everybody has to be the same, but people that have the same types of values for their job and off the field personally as well. But it creates a great environment to make a living in a profession that's very demanding. He makes it really enjoyable.

Everybody across the country at every level, you've got to grind. You've got to work. You've got to recruit. You've got to help guys academically, help these young guys grow up. You've got to strategize and coach and those types of things. But he creates an environment that really allows growth professionally and certainly personally too. And just a great model and example for all of us as a husband, father, coach, Christian, all of those things.

Just in a lot of ways, kind of we were talking about Christian Wilkins making everybody better, that's who Dabo Swinney is. Dabo brings out the very best in everybody. It's, as he says, an over believer. It's not just for the players, but for all of us. He creates that sense of belief, but he also creates the accountability and the structure that we all need in order to have consistent success. But he's very genuine and authentic in every way. He knows all the kids on staff. He knows the families very well. He's just a -- he's a real special guy.

Q. You've been around the block. How much do you realize the grass is always greener elsewhere, and how much is it a discussion among the staff members, like, hey, you might want to proceed cautiously?
BRENT VENABLES: We talk about it. We do. In this profession, there's a number of really good jobs, and Clemson's one of them, where, again, you have an alignment with the leadership. You're in a great location where you can recruit. You have the kind of facilities that's going to attract topnotch recruits. And then we have our very genuine, authentic family environment that's got cohesion and continuity with the staff, starting with Coach Swinney, that's good at development and, again, holistic development as well.

So to me, I've used my experience of being at other good places and being very aware of my surroundings, the competition and what else is out there in this profession, and I value that I have what I want. So I know what I want, and I have what I want. So I try to promote that with our young coaches and certainly my colleagues as well.

That doesn't mean -- it's a personal decision for everyone. First of all, you'd better be good enough so you can stay, and you've got to be good at your job to stay. That's what I focus on. And then everything else kind of takes care of itself, and I've always been that way. Just try to be great at what I'm doing right now.

Q. (No microphone)?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, he certainly is -- he's going to make the decision himself. He's going to get input typically, but he's going to -- make no mistake, he's going to hand pick the people that work in our building, and I love that about him. He'll tell you there's a lot of unbelievable coaches, but to find the great coaches that are also great men that have, again, the right kind of standards and values and the character to go along with it, and all of a sudden it's a smaller pool, and that's the pool that I think he feels works best for him.

Q. As you look at Tua, what are two or three of the attributes for him that just really stand out?
BRENT VENABLES: His accuracy, his decision-making, his instincts, his competitiveness all put him in that real special elite category. He plays with a lot of passion, and yet at the same time great poise for such a young player. But his accuracy is crazy. He's got a big arm, but he has that accuracy, like Josh Heupel at Oklahoma. He had the worst release and the funky looking ball, unbelievable accuracy, not very much arm strength and certainly didn't have that kind of mobility. Great quarterback in his own right.

But Tua's kind of got it all. He's the total package. Perception is that he's got this unbelievable character to go along with it and just a real likable, easy to pull for kind of guy and very grounded and just got a great foundation to him.

Q. When you look at Tua and then you look at Trevor, who you see in practice every day, these are two guys you're going to see for a long time. What do they share?
BRENT VENABLES: Same kind of accuracy and release and decision-making. Trevor is a tremendous athlete. I don't know if you'd call him a dual threat. I would call Trevor very mobile, and then you'd call Tua a legit two-way threat, dual threat quarterback that's not just a run or set up the throw.

Q. What is their ceiling?
BRENT VENABLES: I think they'll both play a very, very long time in the NFL, there's no question. Because what I know -- again, I'm assuming what I see through the picture screen on the TV is the right portrayal of Tua, but he's got it. He's got character. He's got humility. He's got a faith-based foundation to him. He's a great competitor, worker, leader, those types of things, and I know that's who Trevor Lawrence is. So I think those attributes kind of carry you through the storms that are inevitable. They're going to happen for them, and I think they've got what it takes to withstand a long career.

Q. How has Tua changed that Alabama offense?
BRENT VENABLES: Now they're able to use their weapons in every way, running and throwing. It just gives them a tremendous true balance in what they do, just not a deep ball threat. He can do it all and just run the entirety of their offense and run it at a very elite level. So just makes it a little -- there's not much margin for error, where maybe in the past you had a little bit more -- you didn't have to play near perfect, you didn't feel like.

Q. How does Tua's ability to improvise compare to some of the guys that you faced? I know you've faced some good ones like Ian Book and Dungey.
COACH: This year?

Q. This year or going back to Oklahoma.
BRENT VENABLES: A bunch of really good ones, but Tua is up there with any of them we've played. That's not like earth shattering. Oh, Venables says he's the best of the best. I mean, the guy could have easily won the Heisman, and it was all well deserved. He's just getting his career started. That's the scary thing. And has an incredible ceiling. He's just a tremendous, tremendous player -- decision-maker, accuracy, poise, toughness, can run, can throw. Things break down, again, he still has the focus and the poise and the instincts to still look down the field. I mean, he's a tough out.

Q. Is there a difference between last year and this year? Last year was a big field position game, and it seems like you guys were up against it, and this defense played well and hung in there against Alabama by ten points. The defense felt good last year, right? I mean, the offense wasn't able to get first downs. Is that the biggest difference?
BRENT VENABLES: They're a different offense than they were a year ago. They've mowed through everybody. And Jalen Hurts has improved immensely as a real quarterback. He's impressive what he did against Georgia, I think maybe our for five -- maybe five third down conversions after he got in, and Georgia had played well up until that time.

Yeah, they're just different in how they utilize their receivers and throwing the ball. They can run it, throw it, do it all and do it all with great consistency, cohesion. They're making all the layups, where a year ago I think they weren't making all the layups consistently. Still tough to beat. They were good enough to beat us. But it's a much different animal this year.

Q. How do you see (no microphone)?
BRENT VENABLES: He'll be fine. He's got a great future. He's a worker. He's got skill. He's long. He's athletic. He's got speed. He's got instincts. He's got some natural, some real natural talent, but he's got character and work ethic and the fortitude to out compete and fight and be a great leader. He's got great humility to him. All those things that transition -- those things will transition, and he'll be able to take to the NFL. So he'll be very, very prepared for what's in front of him.

Q. He said his run stopping ability, he feels like that's underrated.
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, he's not afraid at all to put his face in there and strike people. He's a complete player.

Q. Give me your best shot in spelling Tagovailoa.
BRENT VENABLES: T-a -- is it G?

Q. No.

Q. O-v.
BRENT VENABLES: I'm out already. I did decent.

Q. Having so many pressures on defensive linemen, (no microphone). Do you think that helps guys like Ferrell to come in and know there's already a path to success?
BRENT VENABLES: I think so. I think you have credibility. You've got examples for them to see and for you to reflect on with them. And I think it's attractive to the defensive linemen to have that kind of a tradition. So certainly helpful, no question about it.

Q. With Austin mixed in with those other three guys, what has he meant?
BRENT VENABLES: He and Isaiah were co-defensive players of the week last week. And Cotton Bowl named him defensive MVP. Very proud of him. He's the quietest of that crew, but he's had a great year and takes a backseat to nobody, been a great leader. He's been playing -- I remember his first real heavy action was in the playoffs against Oklahoma in 2015, and the boy's come a long way. In that game with that fourth down and one, stop past midfield. We had a little stunt on, and he goes in there and was a big part -- really that was the turning point in that game where we kind of finished them off.

He's had that kind of career, ultra-successful. He's worked incredibly hard along the way. Again, maybe not talked outwardly outside of our football building, but inside we have great appreciation for Austin and all he's done.

Q. (No microphone)? Do you remember that game? What was it?
BRENT VENABLES: Again, he's 6'5", and he's probably 230 pounds and didn't have the strength yet and just kind of wobbly as a player and having an out of body experience as a young player. When you've got to throw into the fire, so to speak, before maybe they're quite ready, sometimes you go through that growth process, and we did with him then.

Q. Coach, did you injure your finger playing scout team quarterback again?
BRENT VENABLES: Just got to protect it. One more Thursday here, but, yeah, that was -- I broke about it about six weeks ago.

Q. How is preparing for Alabama this week different than last year? How does that change?
BRENT VENABLES: I think it's probably easier because you just don't have as many grueling hours of torture. I mean, it's -- I don't want to sit there and go, oh, this is great, you know. I actually say this is great when they can't make a forward pass, and I'm like all right, getting ready to get all the guys in this week. But against these guys, it's frightening. Their ability to execute, their explosiveness. They get the ball in their skills, whether it's 8 or 11 or 17, and they've got this guy 4 and this guy 82 or 22 or 34 or 13 or 2. It's sickening.

But our guys are excited about the challenge. We are too, to see where we match up. It's a great, great challenge for us. Easily the best challenge -- probably it's the best group we've seen as an offense since I've been at Clemson.

Q. Can you talk about Dabo helping you enjoy the pain? Are you just a masochist? Do you enjoy the pain of preparing? It doesn't sound fun.
BRENT VENABLES: I like the challenge. I've always enjoyed the strategy of it, trying to help your players. Give them a good plan so they can go out and execute. That's enjoyable for me, especially when there's buy-in, when they're buying in, they believe it. That's part of it. Sometimes you've got to trick them into believing it.

It is, and it's, quote, unquote, stressful because you want it so bad for them. But, yeah, Coach Swinney is awesome. I was in a much different place before I came to Clemson when it came to all the games and the big games because they're all big to coaches. He's really -- he's relentless about demanding and reminding and nourishing the concept of enjoying it and enjoying the time with your players. Make sure they enjoy it because, if it becomes all about the winning, then it's hard for anybody to enjoy. Even though you might have great success, and you have this dysfunctional success that's not enjoyable for anyone. You really lack fulfillment.

I'm just speaking personally. I have a great deal of fulfillment what I'm doing right now, but I've been in that tough place where you have all the success and you're in the middle of it, and you just want to get on to the next one, and you just don't enjoy it, what it takes to get to this point, and just what it takes to have consistent success. It's really, really hard.

Q. Does any part of you step back this week and say, I get to experience my son. Not many kids get to do this with your dad. Does any part of you sit back and think it's pretty wild, I get to do this with my son?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, and it's not about me and him, but I kind of look at it from afar, watching him with his teammates and listening to him today and, boy, isn't this cool, and getting the picture after the game. It's really -- it's about him and his journey. But to be able to -- so many dads are not -- if you're a football coach, you're not afforded the same opportunity, and I don't take that for granted. I'm very thankful for that. And to get that, again, bird's eye view every day is pretty special. Whether or not you're here or just be able to be with them during their journey, it's pretty special.

Q. What's been the coolest thing? He hid the news about Dexter Lawrence from you for a couple of days so you could celebrate.
BRENT VENABLES: I just felt so bad. The sickening feeling I had was for Dexter and his family. Just what a terrible thing to go through. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. That's really felt like we've got guys -- and Dexter's special, but I knew that we were more than just one guy. We were about more than just one guy, but I hated that he missed that opportunity. I really feel this, that it would have been hard to have the same kind of consistent success the last three years had it not been for him. He's been such a huge part of it, and he's worked so hard for this opportunity.

The families go through the same, even more so when you're a parent of a student-athlete, you go through the same type of highs and lows too, and so it's -- to see that, for them to have to deal with that was tough.

Q. How proud are you of Albert? It's kind of a blessing for him to be able to make more of a name for himself nationally.
BRENT VENABLES: Incredibly proud of him. I think it validates that stick-to-itiveness. Just hang in there, and you're going to get your opportunity. It validates that, coming from a coaching staff. And then what I really appreciate about what's going on behind the scenes is the -- sometimes players get tired of wanting it more than their teammate wants it for himself, and then it becomes the -- it can be like the scarlet letter, and you've got this cloud of dust around him all the time.

But our guys kept hanging in there with him and encouraging him and helping him along the way to get him to this point too. Ultimately, it still came down to him, you know, wanting the opportunity for himself, and just really happy for him. He's worked really hard for this opportunity, and he really stepped up last week and really played well.

Q. You mentioned earlier how --
BRENT VENABLES: Bambi! We've got Bambi here, everybody! Austin Bryant's come a long way. Let me start this off. I'd just like to commend Austin Bryant, who was the Cotton Bowl MVP last week, and from the Orange Bowl, his first game action really was the Orange Bowl 2015 playoff against Baker Mayfield and an incredible stop on fourth and one, to the Cotton Bowl MVP his senior year. Pretty special career, man. Pretty special career. Really proud of Austin. What you got for me?

Q. We're here with former Broyles Award trophy winner. Coach V, can you just talk a little bit about your scout team quarterback career here?
BRENT VENABLES: It's been rough. It's had its highs and lows. What I can appreciate is the rest of my guys on the scout team offense. They're the best group in America. My success is really do for them. No, I stink. I'm really, really good with everything until you got to actually snap the ball, and then I'm pretty below average. Other than that, I'm pretty good.

Q. One more question. Of course everyone sees the "get back" coach that has to pull you back throughout the game. What are your thoughts on what he brings to the game every Saturday?
BRENT VENABLES: What I can appreciate about Coach Smo, he's always ready. He's got his mouthpiece in. He stays in shape all season long. It doesn't get any easier. He's relentless. I'll say that. He's relentless about doing his job. So we're a great team.

Q. Thank you, Coach.
BRENT VENABLES: All right. Happy new year.

Q. Brent, is there an intimidation factor, not with you guys, but with Alabama?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, they're like Darth Vader, man. The success they've had in the program, they're the benchmark. They're the standard in college football. A lot of times, it is not even close. They've had the kind of success that every program wants to emulate, but they've got the best of the best in regards to the players. They're very well coached, incredibly physical at the lines of scrimmage. They've got length. They've got speed. They've got it all.

So I don't know who would admit it or not, but I think they spook a lot of people out before they ever get to the field.

Q. That's not the case here. You guys have played them three times. You're second in the country. When you look at them from afar, and you've been around them for all these games, were you wondering in that first game how you guys would stack up?
BRENT VENABLES: Sure, you always do, when you're playing people you're not as familiar with. You recognize talent when you see it. It didn't take very long. Our players got great respect for Alabama, a great respect for how they coach, how they're coached, certainly how they play, for their consistency, for the explosiveness, for the physicality, and I think our players have confidence in themselves for all the same reasons. Us and Alabama, the last eight years in college football, I don't know exactly what the numbers are, but we're within a couple of wins of each other, and winning's hard, and having success, sustaining success is hard.

Building a program is hard, and I think sustaining is even harder. It takes leadership. It takes the right kind of guys in the locker room. Not just talent, but it takes the right kind of people to do it. And every great dynasty tumbles from within. And for them to have that kind of consistent success is pretty special. They keep turning over players, and they keep having the same kind of result.

Our players, they recognize the challenge that they have. They've got great respect for them, but our guys are confident as well, and they should be.

Q. Brent, they won't talk about it, but what would seven championships mean?
BRENT VENABLES: I don't know. I didn't know that's the number. Yeah, I didn't know that. I don't think he needs any more wins to validate Coach Saban. I really don't. I think he's as good as there's been, if not the best, in college football history. He's the guy. What he's done is special. He hasn't done it just at one place. So I don't need to toot his horn. He knows who he is, and everybody else knows who he is. But I don't keep track of those stats and how special that is. You might have to ask him, and he probably -- he'll probably be the wrong guy to ask too.

Q. (No microphone)?
BRENT VENABLES: I do. It's real simple to me. The only assumption that I'm making is that we have the leadership, the alignment that we have now with the president, our athletic director and Coach Swinney, and then it's Coach Swinney's relentlessness of sticking to his core values and not allowing the success to change him or change how he recruits or the messaging, his holistic approach, his own humility, his ability to continue to surround him with like minded people that support that vision.

And I compliment him all the time on -- you know, he's just such a detailed and organized and passionate man for his players, detailed and organized how he runs his day-to-day program from a year round basis. So when you're structured that way and you have the kind of support in your leadership and consistency from that leadership in your university, then it's hard to screw it up. I think it's self-sustaining that way.

But when somebody starts -- when you can have success, here's what happens. Everybody starts to put their guard down, tries to start to relax on continuing to look forward and having, again, that windshield mentality about what's in front of us, what's next, how can we make it better? When you start to lose that vision and that hunger and that thirst to continue to grow and improve and enhance what you have, I think that's when you can start to -- you know, those will be the things that start to play into not having the kind of consistent success.

Q. And making it enjoyable?
BRENT VENABLES: I think that's important. Yeah, because I think it keeps people hungry and motivated, where you feel valued and appreciated. You may not have this title or make this much money, but, man, what I do is important, and that's what all of us really want. You want that as a husband. You want that as a man. You want that as an employee. You want to feel valued and appreciated. Coach Swinney, he's awesome that way. He's just a very unique leader and very appreciative. I think, obviously, it's been well spoken his humble beginnings. He's never lost sight of that, and he's never lost the appreciation for the people that gave him the opportunities that he's had.

I think it's easy in life to kind of forget about that, and it becomes all about me, and that couldn't be further from the truth when it comes to Coach Swinney and, again, our president and our athletic director. They just have a tremendous, tremendous cohesion and respect for one another. And there's other -- there's a few other programs out there in college football that are like that or even in other sports. I use sports as an example, or you can use businesses. It's no different. But when you have that cohesion and the respect and love and appreciation for one another, you can do special things.

Q. You mentioned Alabama's offense is different from last year, but what is it like playing the same program on this stage year after year?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, I'd rather -- I don't know. I mean, it's great. It's a great opportunity. You look at, first of all, at that, because the challenge is so unique, and it's the best -- probably the best offense I've seen since I've been at Clemson, top to bottom. I think it's a validation for you. Hey, we made it back. You know Alabama's going to be here. Geez, we made it back again. So that's kind of fun.

You'd like for the path to be a little easier sometimes, if I was telling you the truth, right? Oh, man, I want the best. Hope they fumble the ball all over the place. I hope they can't get out of their own way. I don't assume that's going to happen, but I'd gladly take a win right now if you said they're going to be sloppy and beat themselves. I'll take it.

Q. How different is the preparation playing the same team in the playoffs every year versus playing someone you see in conference play every year? Is it any different?
BRENT VENABLES: I mean, in some ways it's the same, in some ways it's different. There's always a little bit of carryover if you've played them before, but players change, coaches change. So, obviously, that has a part to do with the differences. I don't know how it is as much as you try to learn and grow from the last time you played them. I think that's important, that you use the last time you played them as experience, and then try to figure out who they are now because every year is a little bit different.

Q. Are you re-watching those games, the National Championship Game that you guys played (no microphone)?
BRENT VENABLES: Just makes you kind of sick about your missed opportunities, but, yeah, it's been incredible games. You go back and remember all the plays, most of the bad ones. But, yeah, it has been. It's been a lot of fun to be a part of it.

Q. What factor does it play that the team dominates most first quarters?
BRENT VENABLES: I think you can get overwhelmed and feel like you're playing from behind. We've had that kind of success too when we've been at our best, where things go well early, the start fast mentality. It's not like you say, well, look, this week we don't have to start fast. I know that's not your point, but it can overwhelm you. It can rattle your confidence.

Certainly for Oklahoma -- was it 28-0? -- it's a hole that -- it's not necessarily -- you can still overcome it, but it's going to be really, really hard when you play against somebody that's as good as Alabama is.

Q. What has to do with it?
BRENT VENABLES: Just a lot of things. They can have something to do with it. The other team can have something to do with it. Their execution, turnovers, the big plays in the different series on both sides of the ball, kicking game, field position -- everything can be a part of it. Sometimes it's clicking, and sometimes it's not.

Q. (No microphone)?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, their speed and their physicality. They're different than just about everybody, they are, and they can get on you quick in all three phases of the game. There's no question about it.

Q. And then on the other side of the ball, what's happening (no microphone)?
BRENT VENABLES: I just think that getting settled in to the game and figuring out how teams are going to play us and make the necessary adjustments and emphasizing different parts of your game plan based on what you're seeing. I think that's a part of it, and just getting into a rhythm, you know, as much as anything.

Q. Alabama's gotten all the (no microphone). Last time I could remember seeing that was --
BRENT VENABLES: Oh, you remember that too?

Q. Yeah. How did that kind of affect that team? It seemed like, by the end of the year -- obviously, there were some injuries and things, but did that kind of wear on the team?
BRENT VENABLES: I thought that from the last -- you know, going into the Big 12 Championship when -- and, again, first of all, Kansas State flat whupped us. They flat whupped us. They played really well. They hit us in the mouth and didn't cower down to us. They didn't give us the "W" before we ever started.

I felt like talent-wise we were a superior team, and unfortunately, we went into the game having this feeling of superiority where it was promoted quite frequently during the course of the week that, even if we lose this week, we're still going to go play for the National Championship. That's where the BCS numbers, computing rankings had it. It was like a guarantee.

So can you lose an edge, the edge that maybe got you there? Absolutely. But I think a lot of it had to do with Kansas State and the way they played and the fearlessness and the aggressiveness. Man, they came out like Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas and just -- they hit us in the face quick and kind of really shocked us.

Q. Were you shocked too?
BRENT VENABLES: A little bit. I didn't see that coming. That's one of the three most talented teams I've been on. So I was -- and I know the matchups favored us going into that game substantially. But that's why you play the game now. It wasn't like this miraculous way they beat us. It was 35-7.

And Sproles had that over 300 total yards in the game. We've got a fourth winner coming on a corner crash right into a toss sweep, and 60 yards later he's scoring. So we didn't coach good or play good, and Kansas State played really well that day.

Q. What did you think of Christian teaching (no microphone)?
BRENT VENABLES: It was so fitting. That's who he is. Nothing surprises me that he would do a tremendous job because he's a giver of his time. He's a super genuine and authentic guy. He'd make you, he'd make my wife, he'd make my kids, he'd make his teammates, he'll make the president of our university, everybody feel like they're his best friend. He's got such a commanding personality to him.

He's fun and games a lot -- like right here. See him? He's fun and games, but when he gets there, it's important to him. He's a person of excellence. It's not like he's going to show up and have romper room. He's going to show up and be a great teacher, where he's got discipline and a nurturing environment and things of that nature. So anything that Christian does, he signs his name with excellence. So that's what I thought, he'll be great at it, because he's great at anything.

Q. Did he ask you for any teaching advice?
BRENT VENABLES: He doesn't need me. He grew up in a family. He's got sisters and a number of them that are teachers, and then his godmother is a teacher and a mentor. So he's been around that his whole life.

Q. How do you market yourself as a coach at Clemson?
BRENT VENABLES: Just our success of our program. I sell our program, our holistic development. We've been good on defense, so systematically we're aggressive and multiple. That's about it. We've been consistent. Everybody wants to hang their hat on a winner, so I think us and Alabama the last eight years in college football have had the most wins and most consistency, and we also graduate our players. We've had the same kind of success in the classroom over the last eight years, where we have elite success that way.

So I know how we run our program, and philosophically Coach Swinney and what his vision for the program is, so our guys are going to come and have fun too. Whatever that means, they're going to enjoy their college experience. It's important to Coach Swinney. So it's not -- less is more for Coach Swinney. When it comes to the football things, where our guys can really enjoy life.

I'll use an example. In the springtime, other than the spring game, and we have one day where we have fan day, he gives them the weekends off in the spring, as opposed to the Saturday morning meetings and practice and next thing you know it's 5:00 on a Saturday all spring long you're practicing. He wants our guys to have time just to be college students and enjoy college. If you ask me if I want 15 more minutes or let them out early, I'm always going to take more time, but most of the time he doesn't ask me. He gives them the time. That's how he is. He's very conscious of allowing them to enjoy their college experience because it can be really easy to be dysfunctionally good and work, work, work, have all kinds of success and it's all about winning, and you become dysfunctionally good, and it's not a lot of fun for anybody.

That can happen, not just in sports, but just in success in life. Coach Swinney does an awesome job of keeping the main thing the main thing and perpetuating the positive, just bringing out the best qualities in our young people and always keeping the focus on, again, life and foundationally being centered the right way. So he's the real deal. That's -- I sell all those things, and I market myself that way.

Q. Coach, it's been unheard of having a freshman quarterback starting at this level. What happened that led to this happening?
BRENT VENABLES: That's a great point. I think just high school, but the development at a younger age, particularly in high school, the seven-on-sevens have played a part in that, but just coaches have -- you know, are more innovative, and the development is better than ever systematically. Offensively, the way people stress you on defense and use every patch of grass is more innovative now than ever, but just the development is expedited because of a lot of those things. But what they're doing at a younger age is the biggest part of it.

They're on a big stage, a lot of the elite players, even in middle school and going into high school, so they're not afraid of the moment either. They've been on those big stages, the elite ones in particular.

Q. I know you're playing the No. 1 offense in the country. Have you found a way to sneak 12 guys on the field?
BRENT VENABLES: We're working on that. We've got Thursday practice today. No, they're probably the most complete offense, the most explosive group of guys since I've been at Clemson. They're the real deal. We'll have to play really well.

Q. I've seen you get very animated on the sideline. I love the energy you bring. Where does that come from?
BRENT VENABLES: I just have a lot of passion for what I do, just intense passion to do well for my guys. I live every play, good and bad with them. I have a lot of fun. I enjoy my job, make no apologies, no matter what kind of facial expressions or how many times they've got to jerk me around. Just try and do a great job. Again, I love what I do.

Q. What's your perfect salad getting ready for the game?
BRENT VENABLES: My perfect salad?

Q. Maybe like a Chinese chicken salad?
BRENT VENABLES: I'm going like a Mexi bowl of some sort.

Q. So you're spicy?

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