Clemson Defense Talks Ohio State Offense, Challenges Ahead

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables spoke with reporters Monday afternoon. Also joining the media session were DE Myles Murphy, LB James Skalski, LB Baylor Spector, LB Mike Jones, SAF Nolan Turner, and DT Tyler Davis. Here are the highlights from everything that was said.

Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables

— Excited and thankful for this opportunity to be back in the playoffs. The team has grown up and improved. “There’s nothing better for a coach than to watch your players develop from the beginning to the end.”

— They wouldn’t be here without their senior leaders.

— He doesn’t see a whole lot different from Justin Fields compared to last year. He can run and throw with precision. He’s strong, poised, great leader, great skill set. An unquestioned leader who can also mange the game well. “Incredibly talented.”

— Great quarterbacks are defined by how they win and nobody’s done it better than Trevor Lawrence. He’s got a steadiness that guys can follow. He’s a joy to be around.

— Chris Olave is a great player. Savvy and can take the top off the ball. Speed, length, size, toughness. This will be the best group of receivers they play against this year.

— Dabo Swinney is gonna speak from his heart and not be politically correct. It doesn’t affect the defense.

— When the Big Ten announced they weren’t playing, he was on the phone with Kevin Wilson trying to figure out what was going on with the season. “How can you not just be so appreciative and thankful to everybody who’s had a hand in just getting things to this point?”

— There is nobody on this earth that he has more respect for than Dabo Swinney. He has made him a better father, husband, Christian, coach, etc.

— “It’s harder than it’s ever been to coach defense, but I love it.”

Linebacker James Skalski

— You have to fill your gaps and be disciplined against the Ohio State running backs. Master Teague has a great football name.

— Asked if this was a shot for redemption, Skalski said he’s been in the playoff hunt every year he’s been at Clemson, but he is 0-2 in New Orleans.

— It’s going to be hard to slow down the OSU passing game. “They got dudes everywhere.” Great receivers and tight ends. They probably didn’t play their best against Northwestern.

— His dad played for Oklahoma. He was never a fan of any team growing up. As soon as he met DC Brent Venables he was interested and then he met Dabo Swinney and that was enough for him.

— Is Ohio State a rivalry? “I wouldn’t call it a rivalry. I think it’s a semifinal playoff game.” It doesn’t matter who you’re playing at this point, you want to win.

— On the criticisms that Dabo Swinney has received, how has it been like for the players watching him? “It’s just a normal year for us. If you spend all your time trying to please everyone, it usually doesn’t end well for yourself.”

— Offenses today do a great job of creating space and mismatches. It’s hard to stop. The key is bend, don’t break. Can the opponent drive the entire length of the field enough times to beat you?

Safety Nolan Turner

— The game last year with OSU was one of the most physical games they played in. “I assume it will be this year too.”

— This has been a crazy year. He has missed the social interaction with people. Missed the fans too.

— It’s frustrating that he will be suspended in the first half due to a targeting call against Notre Dame. “It’s an uncontrollable for me. I can’t control that.” He’ll be on the sideline and be supportive. First half he’ll be a coach.

— The guy who will be starting in front of him this week has gotten extra reps, but Turner is still getting his.

— How do they match OSU’s desire for revenge? When you get an opportunity to play in a game like this, you shouldn’t need any more motivation. “These are the fun ones right here.” “That’s all the motivation I need.”

— Skalski is a great leader and a violent football player. He gets everybody lined up on the front seven and does a great job communicating. He’s just such a vital part of the team and is one of the most underrated players he’s ever been around.

— They didn’t play great last year against Ohio State. “We were fortunate to settle down on defense and get some stops.” They have to be better fundamentally and finishing plays. This is a game he’s been looking forward to.

— There are a lot of guys who can step in for him in the first half. They have athletic young guys who aren’t young anymore.

Linebacker Baylon Spector

— Ohio State is a great team. “We’ll be ready for what they bring to the table.”

— You have to pay attention to what Trey Sermon did against Northwestern. The offensive line is experienced.

— Teams are physical at this stage and you have to be ready for it. “I think we bring that to the table.”

— James Skalski is undervalued athletically. “We see it every day.” “I’m super thankful to have him right there beside me when we’re out there on the field.”

— The thing that stood out most about last year’s game was the physicality. It was a long game too. It’s going to be a battle.

— The COVID protocols at this point are normal now. They’re used to all of it.

— The bowl experience will be very different than in years past. It’s something you work for and it’s fun and you do a bunch of different things. This year is obviously different. They’re trying to have a BINGO night.

— Is this a rivalry? It’s a big stage and they know what type of team Ohio State has. “It’s definitely a rival.”

— Trey Sermon is a talented player who gets down hill. Have to be ready for him and then all of the things they can do off of him running the ball. The linebackers will need to be physical.

Defensive end Myles Murphy

— The OSU offensive line is pretty big. Strong up front. Gotta be strong at the point of attack. Very good running game. Good structural play calling.

— On being named a Freshman All-American, “it is pretty surreal.” He watched this game last year and now he’s in it. It is very special to be on the couch watching it and then being in it one year later.

— Justin Fields is strong in the pocket. “When we do get to him, we’ll have to wrap up and get him all the way to ground.” They have to make him go to the ground according to his teammates. “Gotta keep him in the pocket and just wrap up on him.”

— It’s important that he sets the edge against OSU’s running game. It’s engrained in his head now from how much Brent Venables is preaching it to him.

— “I am very excited.” The teammates have been talking to him about going to a bowl game and play in a playoff game.

Linebacker Mike Jones

— “Our confidence comes from our preparation.” Venables keeps them to their standard.

— This has been a very different bowl experience. You don’t get to spend a week at the bowl site. They go home every day. He’s just glad there is a playoff this year.

— The OSU rivalry is nailbiting. “Everybody’s got their own little narratives out.” “I’m excited to see what’s going to happen and I’m playing in it.”

— If you watched OSU’s last game, Trey Sermon was pretty outstanding. The game starts in the trenches. Have to try to stop the run first off. They have great running backs.

— What was the response in the locker room to some of things Dabo Swinney was saying in the summer? Swinney addressed the team prior to any controversial statements or prior to the players speaking out about social justice issues. They were bothered by people attacking him.

— It’s evident that Clemson plays on another level when James Skalski is on the field.

DT Tyler Davis

— This year has been tough because you can’t go home, you can’t go out.

— Everyone on the Ohio State offensive line is great. It will be very important to set the tone.

— There’s no advantage or disadvantage between playing six games or 11 games. When you’re on the same field there are no excuses.

— It felt great to get the win last week. Justin Fields and ND QB Ian Book are very similar in getting out of the pocket and making throws down the field.

— The OSU offensive line is aggressive, physical, they play through the whistle.

— They are better prepared for Justin Fields because they saw him last year.