CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — When Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables learned the Tigers were facing Virginia Tech for the Atlantic Coast Conference title, he had a strong message for his players.
No. 3 Clemson (11-1; No. 3 College Football Playoff) tries to penetrate the defense of No. 19 Virginia Tech (9-3; No. 23 CFP) on Saturday night in the ACC championship game.
“We’re going to have to play our butts off on defense because I know our offense is going to have to play its butts off,” Venables said of Hokies’ counterpart, Bud Foster. “Nothing’s going to come easy.”
It rarely does for opponents when facing the game plans of Venables or Foster, two of college football’s best at what they do. Clemson’s defense leads the ACC and is eight in the FBS with 307 yards allowed. Virginia Tech is close behind, fourth in the league and 19th overall at 332 yards per game allowed, perhaps more remarkable in a year many figured would be a transition under first-year coach Justin Fuente.
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But one of Fuente’s earliest moves was holding onto Foster, who won the Broyles Award in 2006 as the college football’s top assistant.
Foster is glad to maintain his role in Virginia Tech’s program .
“I’ve been a part of this thing for 30 years now and I like that,” Foster said.
If Foster wasn’t effective, though, he would not be the longest-tenured Bowl Subdivision defensive coordinator at 22 seasons and counting.
Virginia Tech defensive end Ken Ekanem said keeping Foster meant the Hokies would not surrender their championship goals to a coaching change.
Foster has kept the Hokies humming as they were while winning four ACC titles between 2004 and 2010. Among Power Five conference teams, only Michigan and Wisconsin have been better at stopping opponents on third down than Virginia Tech.
“I don’t ever look forward to going against Bud Foster,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
“The one thing that I know I’m going to see is a group that’s going to play incredibly disciplined. They’re going to play hard, with great effort. They’re going to play physical and tough. They’re going to tackle well, and they’re going to play with a relentless mindset, and that’s their DNA.”
Clemson can be just as relentless under Venables, an unrestrained personality on the sidelines who often needs a staffer to pull him back off the field as he wildly runs his defense.
Linebacker Ben Boulware calls him wired. Venables, under the alias “Jimmy Greenbeans ,” plays scout team quarterback in prepping his defenders to make sure things are right. “Coach V is intense,” defensive end Christian Wilkins said.
Venables was hired from Oklahoma after the 2011 season and Clemson’s 70-33 Orange Bowl debacle against West Virginia. Since, he’s steadily built a group of fast, fiery defenders adept at stopping the run and the pass. They lead the ACC with 16 interceptions and are second with 42 sacks. The Tigers are tied for second nationally with 104 tackles for loss.
And he did it this season after six of his starters, five who were underclassmen, were taken in the NFL draft.
“I’m definitely proud of our guys,” Clemson senior linebacker Ben Boulware said. “We’ve been very focused the whole season, especially the latter part of the season.”
The Tigers have picked things up on defense the past two weeks after giving up a season-high 43 points and 464 yards, their second highest total of the year, in a loss to Pitt on Nov. 12. Clemson has yielded only 20 points and 415 yards combined in easy wins over Wake Forest and South Carolina.
Venables is up for the Broyles Award this season, his second straight year as a finalist.
He’s honored to share the defensive spotlight this week with Foster. “He doesn’t chase money or (job) titles and has chosen to stay the course,” Venables said. “I have a lot of respect for him.”
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