WHO: No. 3 Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC) at Syracuse (2-2, 0-0)
WHEN: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Carrier Dome, Syracuse
TV: WCIV (ABC)
LINE: Clemson by 12.5
CLEMSON — Martin Jenkins and Darius Robinson love intercepting passes, taking them back for touchdowns and hearing the P.A. announcer yelp their names.
Over the long haul? The Clemson cornerbacks would prefer anonymity. The less they hear their names, the better. Because unless they’re scoring pick-6s or making tackles in the backfield — rarities in the secondary — they’re only regularly highlighted when giving up the big play.
“You never want to get beat, you never want to be the one who let your teammates down,” Robinson said. “So as far as us being on the cornerback position, all eyes are on us. We just play with no fear and have fun.”
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has had his summertime wish granted: the elder cornerbacks held off the promising freshmen for their jobs. Robinson’s the senior, and Jenkins, Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland are juniors who are taking all the reps.
Venables would “absolutely” prefer the fans not know who those four are, since last year the team was plagued by getting gashed on the perimeter. He then knocked on wood before giving his usual lecture about balanced play.
“We were rather inconsistent there a year ago in all the simple things,” Venables said. “You’re not necessarily looking for a big-time playmaker, obviously you’d like to have that, but … all those little things, execution-wise, we’re a lot more consistent there.”
Because of the returning experience at the position, Venables feels confident the team’s stingy September performance can continue for the next two months.
“As you mature, you become more disciplined and you don’t try to do too much,” he said. “And as a result, you make a lot more plays when you let the system work for you. Trust is a big part of that.”
Even though trials and tribulations have been a part of growing up — all four corners have struggled to keep their jobs during their careers because of performance and injuries — they use words like “confidence” and “swagger” to define themselves.
“We have that mindset that we want to be the best, we’ve got to play like the best, we have to have the attitude of the best,” Robinson said.
“It all starts in practice, honestly. If you prepare the right way throughout the week, the games are the easier part. We’re confident throughout the week because we definitely practice the right way.”
Breeland in particular is becoming something of a shutdown corner. He proved his endurance when he played every single snap of an August intrasquad scrimmage in 95-degree heat, and continues to be the steadiest of the group.
“He’s just disciplined, doing all the little things the right way,” Venables said. “Disciplined with his eyes, his technique and doing his job.”
Added Robinson, “He’s focused this year. He just wants to be that guy. As far as him preparing throughout the week, he loves to practice, and the games just come natural to him now.”
As simplistic as it sounds, persistent trying has become a hallmark of the overall Clemson defense.
“From the get-go all the way through, our loafs have slowly diminished, and that’s very pleasing,” Venables said. “Effort and emotion are the great equalizers, so being intense and on edge is part of the game. When you cheat the game, you get exposed pretty quick.
“There’s an innocence about that when you watch your guys play with great effort. You love it. We’ve got good kids that enjoy the game and have good chemistry, and I think it shows.”
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