Clemson, S.C. — The crowd rose and so did the noise level in Death Valley. No. 1 Clemson faced fourth-and-goal from the 2 with 10 seconds left in regulation against Texas A&M.
It felt like a pivotal moment, even if it wasn’t. Kellen Mond made a quick throw to wide-open tight end Jalen Wydermyer in the end zone to give the Aggies their first and only touchdown in a 24-10 loss in which they were mostly manhandled by the defending national champions.
“I think that was our only bust,” said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables with a smile that made clear the Tigers wanted that no-touchdowns-allowed game as much as the fans.
During Clemson’s rise to college football royalty over the last decade under Dabo Swinney, the Tigers have been one of the few programs in the age of offense to consistently produce top-level defenses. Clemson keeps sending players to the NFL. Especially pass rushers. The next wave steps up, and the beat goes on.
The constant is Venables, now in his eighth season as Swinney’s top lieutenant.
The high-energy and highly compensated assistant coach who has his own get-back guy to keep him from drifting off the sideline has directed a top-25 defense every season since 2013. Clemson has been top five in the nation in yards allowed per play in four of the last five seasons.
“He’s as good as it gets,” Swinney said Saturday night. “He’s passionate about it, he loves what he does. He loves it. And the guys love working with him. Players love playing for him.”
The task for Venables, or Coach V, this season was to replace four starting defensive linemen who were drafted by the NFL in April, including three first-rounders.
There is still big-time talent up front, but depth, experience and leadership is in development. The back end of the defense is more settled, with veterans to lean upon such as safeties Tanner Muse, K’Von Wallace, Denzel Johnson and Nolan Turner.
Against Texas A&M, Clemson played lots of six-defensive back formations. Swinney said Venables used six personnel packages against Texas A&M as compared to two for Georgia Tech in the season opener.
With Christian Wilkins, Clellin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant leading the way last year, Clemson could rely on a dominant defensive line to solve most any problem.
“With our personnel, we need to have multiple answers,” Swinney said.
“It’s not easy. They throw a lot at us. But it’s part of the challenge,” said Turner, who bounced back from an early missed tackle against A&M to have a solid game. “The guy’s a genius. Always coming up with crazy stuff.”
Venables sees his job as making the complicated simple.
“Your schemes are no good if the fundamentals and technique stink,” he said.
The SEC held three of the top four spots in the AP poll after LSU’s road victory against Texas pushed the Tigers to No. 4.
Clemson remained No. 1 receiving 56 first-place votes. No. 2 Alabama received six first-place votes and Georgia stayed at No. 3. LSU jumped two spots,
Michigan dropped to No. 10 after an OT win over Army, and Michigan State jumped to 18 after its win over Western Michigan. In the coaches’ poll, Michigan is 10th, and Michigan State 19th.
... Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson will miss the season because of a torn patellar tendon suffered in the win over Eastern Michigan.
... South Carolina QB Jake Bentley will have season-ending surgery on his fractured left foot.