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Venables' Key to Stopping Pitt Panthers: Don't Let Them Get into Rhythm

A year after shutting No. 23 Pittsburgh down in Clemson, Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables knows what it'll take to do it again on the road.

Clemson doesn't have a deep history with Saturday's opponent. The Tigers have never played a game against the No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers in their home venue. 

That doesn't mean Brent Venables is clueless heading into Saturday's 3:30 p.m. ACC showdown at Heinz Field. Clemson's defensive coordinator has faced head coach Pat Narduzzi's squad three times before, including last year. 

Venables has seen star quarterback Kenny Pickett twice and had great success against him, so the veteran defensive schemer knows what it will take to keep an offense that's averaging 48 points per game from taking off. 

"Obvioulsy not letting the run game get started," Venables said earlier this week. "You've got to take away space. You do that with man (coverage), you do that with zone (coverage). You've got to get into a rhythm and not let them get into it. Take away the things that they want to do well, make the layups hard."

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Venables did that to Pickett a year ago. The Pitt signal-caller, who's averaging 322 passing yards per game and has 21 touchdowns to one interception, completed just 56.4 percent of his passes for 209 yards in a 52-17 loss at Memorial Stadium in 2020. The Panthers produced just 246 yards as a team, their second-lowest output last season, and they turned the ball over five times.

"It was a long time ago," Venables joked. "Every week is different. Every year is different. We're different in how we're built, our personnel, what we're utilizing and what we're taking advantage of. We're different than what we were a year ago from that standpoint." 

This year, they come into the game averaging 6.8 yards per game as an offense, and their 28 points against Virginia Tech last week is the only time they haven't gotten to at least 40 points this year. Pitt has scored 40 touchdowns. Clemson has allowed just eight in all of 2021. 

It's strength vs. strength on Saturday, but Venables knows what it takes to come out on top.

"If everything is easy for them, they can get into a good rhythm," Venables said. "Your pressure, your run defense, your coverage, it's all got to play hand-in-hand." 

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