Clemson defensive coordinator Venables on Virginia: “They know what they are doing”

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Brent Venables (Photo:

If nothing else, Virginia’s tenacity has caught No. 1 Clemson’s attention.

While the Cavaliers dropped a lopsided contest to the Tigers in last December’s ACC Championship game, Virginia never stopped fighting. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables certainly noticed that in Charlotte and noticed it again while watching the game tape of UVA’s win over Duke.

“That’s who they are,” Venables said in a video conference with media. “Coach Mendenhall has always done that. His teams have a very tough, mature mindset. His team has belief. I’m not surprised at all.”

UVA trailed the Blue Devils, 20-17, going into the fourth quarter when the Cavaliers posted 21 unanswered points to win their opener.

Several other Virginia highlights caught Venables’ eyes during his film study.

“The first thing that jumped out to me is I thought [Brennan] Armstrong had a lot of poise, managed the game well and played really big when they needed him to,” the Clemson coach said. “I thought their offensive line looked really good, very well-coached. They said they wanted to improve their run game and they did a really good job of controlling the clock (Virginia owned the ball for 34:35 and 9:10 of the fourth quarter, as compared to Duke’s 5:50), moving the chains (UVA had 25 first downs, 10 via the running game). No. 21 [Wayne Taulapapa] runs with tremendous purpose and takes on the mantra of their team.”

While Armstrong is a left-handed quarterback, Venables said they don’t have any southpaws who can throw the ball in order to simulate that look in practice.

Venables also noticed UVA freshman wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr., who was named ACC Receiver and ACC Rookie of the Week after his huge debut of four receptions, 101 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Oh, and how could you not notice Davis on game film? He’s 6-foot-7 and has a long reach.

“The challenge is, he can make plays,” Venables said. “He did that a number of times. He has great toughness. [Armstrong and Davis] didn’t connect early but he just kept playing as opposed to having immaturity and getting dejected. He kept playing and made a couple of tough, physical plays. He shed three defenders to score. We have a lot of respect for him from what you see on tape in attitude, toughness.”

Venables said he thought Duke’s defensive backs really competed on a couple of jump balls to Davis, but that the big Virginia wideout simply out-jumped them, which is difficult to stop.

“[Virginia] made it to the ACC Championship last year, they have tremendous length everywhere outside and some smaller guys at the skilled positions, and their defense is built the same way. They’re doing a great job of building a program there,” he said.

He also noticed that Virginia ran 84 offensive plays, a rather high amount, although seven Duke turnovers played a role in that number.

“I think they wore Duke down (something that Mendenhall agreed with). Eighty-some plays, that’s a bunch of plays,” Venable said. “They can go as fast as anybody we’ll see.

“Looking back at [the ACC Championship], they had close to 50 snaps in the first half. Part of it was our offense was scoring quickly and part of it was that we were having a hard time getting them off the field,” Venables said. “They know what they’re doing.”


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