Clemson needed its defense to come through at the end of another game and once again Brent Venables' unit delivered.
With the Tigers clinging to a 17-14 lead, the Orange took possession of the ball on their own seven-yard line and proceeded to march 63 yards down the field on 14 plays. Facing 3rd and 2 from the Clemson 31, Venables group stiffened up, as Baylon Spector dropped Syracuse running back Sean Tucker a yard shy of the first down marker.
The Orange would miss the ensuing 48-yard field goal attempt, and Clemson would escape with a three-point win. While Venables was overall pleased with the performance of his defense, most notably in the second half, the defensive coordinator said afterward that there is still a lot of work to be done.
"I'm not a bend but not break kind of guy," Venables said. "So we got to be cleaner, and that's the bottom line."
The Tigers have been ravaged by injury this season. Against Syracuse, the defense was without Andrew Booth Jr, who was a late scratch from the lineup, along with Tyler Davis and Bryan Bresee.
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"Right now, there's some young guys that are doing some things are just not disciplined," Venables said. "You know, able to play good, consistent, tough defense and make people earn stuff."
With so many guys out, some of the younger players are having to learn on the job, so to speak, and Venables said that is leading to more mistakes.
"Guys are up there guessing what routes are coming instead of reacting to what they've seen," Venables said. "So we've got to keep getting better. We're lucky to again have made some critical errors in critical situations and still come up with the win."
Tucker, who came into the game leading the ACC in rushing yards, had 157 yards on the ground, with most of that yardage coming in the first half. After a week off, Venables thought his group looked a little rusty early on but was pleased with how the group settled in over the second half.
Going forward, though, the defensive coordinator said his defense is still far from polished, as there are still a lot of areas in which the Tigers can still be better.
"I thought we were just a little rusty with our fits, they blocked us," Venables said. 'They were doing things schematically, that was a little bit different than what we prepared for but, you know, can't simulate it in practice. Whether it's getting knocked out of gaps or just not fitting it with the precision. That back's a good player. I think they had 26 yards in the second half rushing. Did a much better job just getting settled in and getting in a rhythm. But we gotta continue to improve, we gotta lot of things we can improve on."
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