Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

October 16, 2018 at 10:39 pm.

Clemson defense steeled by big-game success

With the exception of perhaps Alabama, Clemson has played in more “big games” than anyone in college football over the last few seasons, and that experience appears to be serving the Tigers well as they continue pursuit of a fourth straight berth in the College Football Playoff.

“We’ve had great experience in a lot of big games where there’s a lot at stake,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “I think the bigger the stakes, the better our guys play. I really do. I think when our guys are challenged that they’ve responded more often than not.”

The numbers back up Venables’ contention.

Clemson is 14-2 against ranked opponents over the last 3 1/2 seasons. That record includes victories in three Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Games and three College Football Playoff games.

The No. 3 Tigers, who are off to a 6-0 start for a fourth straight year and the sixth time in eight years, face another big game on Saturday when No. 16 N.C. State (5-0, 2-0) rolls into town for the final matchup of unbeaten Power 5 teams this regular season.

It may also represent the most challenging task Clemson’s defense has faced this season as the Wolfpack boasts a veteran quarterback in Ryan Finley who leads the ACC in almost all passing categories and a veteran group of wide receivers with NFL potential.

“My players don’t need for me to tell them (about N.C. State),” Venables said. “They already know. They have great respect for N.C. State and they know that N.C. State has given us everything they’ve got the last few years. And this year won’t be any different.”

Finley passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns against Clemson last season and the Tigers had to rally from a 21-17 halftime deficit to win 38-31.

The year before, Clemson survived a 33-yard missed field goal by N.C. State at the end of regulation before winning in overtime, 24-17.

But a veteran defensive line that’s loaded with pro prospects gives Venables confidence his players will assume their big-game mentality once again.

“You’ve got the handle the highs and lows of every game,” Venables said. “They’re going to fight back and punch back and they’re going to have plays and answers for what you’re doing. So you’re going to have to fight until you get control of the game, and our guys know that.”