CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables wishes he could enjoy the excitement at Death Valley this week with the return of star receiver Sammy Watkins.
Venables, though, is focused on fixing things that haven’t worked so well in the 11th-ranked Tigers perfect start.
Clemson (2-0) takes on Furman (0-2) from the Football Championship Subdivision. The Tigers have beaten Furman 29 in a row since falling to the Paladins in 1936, stand 25-0 against FCS teams since 1982 and probably won’t face a serious test in this one, either.
Still, Venables knows he can’t slack off because this week’s defensive showing could dictate how stout the Tigers will be for the more important games down the road.
Clemson stands last in the Atlantic Coast Conference against the run, allowing more than 216 yards a game.
Venables was hired in January after Clemson’s historic Orange Bowl flop, a 70-33 loss to West Virginia. While Venables didn’t see the glaring breakdowns in the secondary that showed up in the opener with Auburn, the Tigers gave up 252 yards on the ground to Ball State including scoring runs of 54 and 21 yards to Horactio Banks.
“We’ve got to get better,” Venables said. “Let’s face it, we can’t let people run the ball at 5 or 6 yards a clip and think we’re going to be any good. It doesn’t work that way.”
“It’s a lack of consistency at the level we need to play,” Venables said. “All starting in the run game. ... Just getting our guys to play consistent and getting their eyes in the right place.”
Most eyes at Memorial Stadium will be focused on Watkins, the All-American receiver making his first start of the season after serving a two-game suspension.
“Hopefully, I have a little bit of time that I can go watch him play, like everybody else,” Venables said. “Looking forward to it. Sammy makes us a better team. He’s a special player.”
Venables is seeking several of those special players on his side of the ball. He gushed about freshman safety Travis Blanks and sophomore linebacker Stephone Anthony. Venables said the group needs more people playing at that high a level to compete for a league championship.
Venables has seen signs of strong technique and good play, which leads him to think his group is capable of much more than it’s shown so far.
“To me, if you can do it once, you should be able to do it over and over again,” he said.
Furman is coming off a strong offensive showing, largely through the air. The Paladins fell to Coastal Carolina 47-45 in triple overtime last week, but backup quarterback Reese Hannon led them to touchdowns on their final six possessions.
Furman finished with 439 yards of offense. Hannon, a freshman, will make his first collegiate start on Saturday as the Paladins try and avoid their first 0-3 start in 33 years.
Furman coach Bruce Fowler said it won’t be hard to get his players attention this week with what Clemson has done. “I hope our team’s excited about this,” he said. “Our players are very conscientious and they’re ready to get back out there.”
Furman has lost 21 of its past 22 games with teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision, the lone victory a 28-3 win at North Carolina in 1999.
Venables has spent the week talking about defensive lapses against the run. It wasn’t necessary, defensive tackle Josh Watson says, since the Tigers are angry enough about their performance so far.
“We absolutely have some something to prove,” Watson said. “We don’t think we’re better than Furman simply because we have a paw on our jersey.”