Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 27, 2018 at 9:30 pm.

Clemson secondary gets wake-up call

Clemson emerged victorious in its annual season-ending clash against rival South Carolina, 56-35, last week, but the Tigers’ defensive backfield wasn’t able to take much credit for the team’s improvement to 12-0.

Clemson’s secondary was exposed time and again by quarterback Jake Bentley and a plethora of Gamecock receivers. Bentley passed for a career-high 510 yards and five touchdowns, and the result was a rather displeased Brent Venables, the Tigers’ seventh-year defensive coordinator.

“Some of our alignments were asinine,” Venables said. “I wish I had a megaphone … or unlimited timeouts. There were 70 plays that looked pretty dang good. But it was an abomination on those other 10, 12 plays.

“Thank goodness our offense completely and totally dominated the game, start to finish. We needed them.”

The busts and breakdowns in the secondary were reminiscent of Clemson’s 28-26 win at Texas A&M in the second game of the season, when A&M quarterback Kellen Mond passed for 430 yards and three scores.

The Tigers appeared to have corrected their mistakes in the games since, but now there’s some concern as No. 2 Clemson heads into the postseason, beginning with Saturday night’s ACC Championship Game against Pitt in Charlotte, N.C.

“We played so ignorant at times,” Venables said. “That’s ours. We have to own it and correct it.”

Clemson’s secondary may not face quite the same challenge against Pitt, which relies heavily on a rushing attack that ranks among the nation’s best.

Venables might prefer that his secondary be tested by Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, a sophomore who has thrown for 1,825 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing 62.3 percent of his attempts.

“He’s tough, he’s instinctive, throws a good ball,” Venables said. “He’s a mobile guy who plays with a good edge to him, very competitive. He’s just kind of a baller and he has a senior offensive line.

“Our guys have been humbled. You’ve got to have perspective. We weren’t doing a lot of basic, fundamental things in coverage. We know who we are, but for whatever reason we didn’t have people play like we needed them to.”