Brent Venables has been on the other side of things.
During his long coaching career, Clemson's defensive coordinator has been the one looking for answers from a struggling unit and how to get better. So he can sympathize with the Tigers' beleaguered offense, which ranks dead last in the ACC in yards and points per game.
"We've been fortunate and spoiled that we've been really, really good on offense (in past seasons)," Venables said this week. "We've been able to cover up whatever deficiencies we've had on our side of the ball through all that. It puts a lot of strain on an opponent when the offense has been able to be as explosive and as dominant as they've been the last 10-plus years.
"We've had plenty of times on our side of the ball when we haven't been as good and the offense has been there to compliment us. That's what a team does."
Clemson's defense has been fairly dominant, coming up big on late stops in three of their four ACC games. The one they didn't was a 27-21 double-overtime loss at NC State, which scored on a touchdown pass in the second extended period to win the game.
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Clemson has reached 4-2 with a scoring margin of just eight points per contest. Venables' group has allowed eight touchdowns all season; four of those came in the NC State game. The Tigers have held five opponents, including No. 1 Georgia, to 14 points or less. They rank third in the ACC in total defense and first in points allowed per game, but there is no finger-pointing or concern coming from Venables and his stop unit.
“We don’t look at it like that at all,” Venables said. “You have success as a team. You have failure as a team. I think it’s easy to try and segment one side of the ball to the other. But that’s the game. Cohesively, can you play together, complement one another and help each other?
"Both sides of the ball are going to have tough moments where you rely on the other side for them to do their thing. When you've got the right kind of culture, guys are going to pull for each other."
This is why Venables remains consistent in his teachings, not just week-to-week but during the entire year for each and every team. He wants his player to focus on their play, performance and the way they respond. Venables says that's "part of being tough-minded," focusing on what you can control. For he and the Clemson defense, it's keeping the other team off the scoreboard.
That will certainly be put to the test Saturday when the Tigers visit No. 23 Pittsburgh, which is averaging 48 points per game.
"There’s no division or disappointment in worrying about what is or isn’t going on on the other side of the ball," Venables said. "That’s how we have built the program, to be that way and do the most with your opportunities.”
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