FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - "Coach, this game is kind of being labeled as a possible shootout. How do you approach it ..."
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The rest of the question did not matter. The instant Brent Venables heard the eight-letter football term starting with "s" he considers an obscenity, Venables recoiled.
THE ORANGE BOWL
Who: No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 7 Ohio State
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
When: Friday, 8:30 p.m.
Records: Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC); Ohio State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
TV announcers: Joe Tessitore, Matt Millen, Maria Taylor
Radio announcers: Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake
Current point spread: Ohio State by
"Coach Venables doesn't like that word," strong safety Robert Smith warned.
Clemson's defensive coordinator has heard that word more times than the number of Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony's combined tackles. And he finally showed he's tired of the subject.
"I don't ever think that. I don't like that one bit," Venables said Tuesday at his Orange Bowl press conference, cutting off the question with a touch of exasperation. "It doesn't matter if it's Ohio State, (or) the Pittsburgh Steelers. Your job on defense is to stop people, so when everybody wants to say it's a shootout, you know, you take offense to that."
It was the storyline for a month going into the Georgia game (which turned out to be true, a 38-35 win.) It was the presumed outcome of the Florida State game (which it wasn't, since FSU blew out Clemson 51-17.) Even the lead-up to South Carolina harvested more questions about the Tigers' defensive prowess in big games.
Here they go again, fielding more questions on how in the world the Clemson defenders will prove they belong on the same field as a top-flight offense - this time, with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde, both 1,000-yard rushers.
The Orange Bowl over/under in Las Vegas sports books has been entrenched at 69.5 combined points, one of the highest totals in bowl season.
"I really believe it will be an incredibly competitive game that comes down to late in the fourth quarter. I believe that," Venables said. "Whether that's 3-2 or 55-54, ultimately your goal is to win the game.
"But a shootout doesn't really resonate with me."
As Venables went on his rant, seated beside him were Shuey and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. Jarrett was asked afterward if the Venables' tirade fired him up.
"Absolutely. He's passionate because he cares about us," Jarrett said. "When he gets upset, we get upset and we're going to work harder.
"You don't want people thinking we need our offense to outscore people. We're going out there to stop people, so when people say it's going to be a shootout, we take it as disrespectful to our defense. We're trying to change that around here."
Anthony was in the next room, awaiting his own breakout interview, when Venables sounded off, and was told about it.
"I mean, who says this has to be a shootout?" Anthony responded. "That's my answer to that. People trying to label this game as that, are not believing in our defense."
Both Clemson and Ohio State rank in the top 25 in scoring defense, but their reputations are driven by offenses in the top 10. The Tigers were No. 46 in scoring defense last year, and No. 81 the year before that - 2011, the ACC title year marred by the 70-33 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia, preceding Venables' hire replacing Kevin Steele.
"We're making improvements," Jarrett said. "That's what we want people to see."
Naturally, Venables referred to the Orange Bowl 13 years ago, when his Oklahoma Sooners were a 10-point underdog against Florida State in the national championship game. The Seminoles were a top-five offense, not having been held below 24 points all season long.
Oklahoma's defense ruled the day, winning 13-2 and not allowing an offensive point.
"That's what I'm hoping for - where everybody says, it's going to be whoever has the ball last and all that, and the next thing you know, it's 13-2," Venables said. "I don't think it will be that kind of performance, but you can always hope."
It is an unlikely reprisal, for Clemson to completely contain Ohio State's offensive fireworks.
"We know we have a great challenge on Friday night," Venables said. "But we're planning on defense like, let's just get one more stop than them. That's not how we operate, no matter who we're playing.
"We know if we don't do things right, we give up big plays, we don't stop the run, then they'll break the scoreboard."
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