CLEMSON - Defensive coordinator Brent Venables sounded encouraged throughout fall camp by Clemson's true depth on the depth chart, as opposed to leaning heavily on the starters.

Obviously, nobody's going to consider the surrender of 45 points and 459 total yards (328 rushing) a resounding success. However, a small token of solace might be taken by Venables in the name of playing 21 defenders between the hedges.

Fifteen of those 21 players logged at least 30 snaps.

"I'm glad. We felt we could play a bunch of guys, and we were able to do that and get some guys experience," Venables said in a postgame interview, one of his most positive utterances Saturday night. "We believe it'll pay off as we continue to develop the team and develop our defense throughout the year."

Freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexnader led all Tigers' defenders with 60 plays, followed by middle linebacker Stephone Anthony (55), free safety Jayron Kearse (55), strong safety Robert Smith (54) and defensive end Vic Beasley (52).

Weakside linebacker Tony Steward, nose tackle Grady Jarrett, defensive end Tavaris Barnes, cornerback Martin Jenkins and nickelback Korrin Wiggins each had at least 39 plays.

DeShawn Williams backed up Josh Watson at defensive end, but Williams actually played 33 snaps, while Watson and D.J. Reader each clocked in 23 plays. Younger players like cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, defensive end Shaq Lawson and free safety Jadar Johnson each went over 30 snaps.

This will help Clemson down the road, even if it didn't help Saturday night.

On to South Carolina State.

Five X-Factors when the Bulldogs have the ball

#4 Jalen Simmons, 5-8, 205, jr., RB, S.C. State. Back from a shoulder injury killing his 2013 season, he led the Bulldogs in rushing in week one and his nickname is "Scoot." Good enough for me.

#73 Eric Dickerson, 6-4, 265, soph., C, S.C. State. Clemson would have no choice if he were a tailback in the 1980s. Alas, he's a 265-pound center in 2014.

#52 Kellen Jones, 6-0, 230, jr., LB, Clemson. Led the Tigers in tackles in last year's S.C. State meeting, and he logged 18 snaps at Georgia, having a hand in five tackles. He transferred from Oklahoma when Venables made the move, and Jones might finally have his knee issues behind him after tearing it in the N.C. State visit nearly 12 months ago.

#98 Kevin Dodd, 6-5, 275, soph., DE, Clemson. Another dude who had a nice game against S.C. State last year, who also helped out Vic Beasley on a crucial 3rd-and-2 stop of Todd Gurley in this past weekend's third quarter.

#93 Corey Crawford, 6-5, 275, sr., DE, Clemson. Suspended for the opener, Crawford's run prevention skills were absolutely missed against Gurley and the Georgia stable. His presence will be necessary to turn this thing around going into ACC play.

Five X-Factors when the Tigers have the ball

#97 Javon Hargrave, 6-2, 300, jr., NT, S.C. State. A Grady Jarrett clone, in build. "He's a big ol' man, now," Dabo Swinney said Tuesday. "That quarterback at Benedict took some shots last week. He's got my respect, I promise you that." Hargrave hit that quarterback three times, including one sack, and had a 61-yard fumble recovery.

#10 Darius Leonard, 6-0, 200, fr., LB, S.C. State. The little brother of former Clemson linebacker Anthony Waters (2003-06), who won a Super Bowl with the Saints five years ago, Leonard earned huge praise from Swinney: "He's a guy we probably would have signed 4-5 years ago." It's even a backhanded compliment; maybe Leonard hears that and thinks, "Oh, yeah, coach? You shoulda signed me 4-5 months ago."

#32 C.J. Davidson, 5-10, 200, jr., RB, Clemson. Grinning from ear to ear, Davidson said Monday he probably had "the most carries since high school" against Georgia, with 13. Well, he had 13 last year vs. S.C. State, and Davidson might have some more boost than starter D.J. Howard, so Davidson should use this game to prove he's worthy of something like 18-20 totes per game.

#5 Germone Hopper, 5-11, 175, soph., WR, Clemson. Had a big game vs. S.C. State last year (notice a trend yet?), earning ACC Rookie of the Week honors with six catches for 66 yards and two scores. Sat out spring ball to focus on school. This offense needs playmakers to emerge. Hopper, whose third-string understudy Kyrin Priester was kicked off the team Wednesday, is a candidate.

#68 David Beasley, 6-4, 330, sr., LG, Clemson. OL coach Robbie Caldwell breathes a little easier with the game one suspensions behind him.

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#89 Shilique Calhoun, 6-5, 256, jr., DE, Michigan State. Talk about a contrast of styles on the West Coast. Calhoun will need to make himself Marcus Mariota's acquaintance. Sparty-Ducks should be a tasty late-afternoon treat when you get home from tailgating.

#22 Shai McKenzie, 5-11, 221, fr., RB, Virginia Tech. Rookie back could be the featured piece in Scot Loeffler's offense this year. Ohio State defensive front won't be too friendly.

#7 Ty Montgomery, 6-2, 215, sr., WR, Stanford. The type of game-breaker an old-school attack like Stanford needs, he had a punt return for a touchdown in the opener and might lead the Cardinal in receiving. Fun matchup with Southern Cal's athletes in space.

Saturday's showdowns

No. 7 Michigan State at No. 3 Oregon ~ 6:30 p.m., FOX

These are the types of games Marcus Mariota (and Mark Helfrich) need to win to prove they're in the right spot. Michigan State's Connor Cook is one of those diamond-in-the-rough quarterbacks; he'll no longer be unknown if he wins in Eugene Saturday.

Brenner picks: Ducks 27, Spartans 24

Michigan at No. 16 Notre Dame ~ 7:30 p.m., NBC

Go read this intriguing piece on the rivalry hitting the pause button by CBS Sports' Jon Solomon. The most intriguing note: Notre Dame is the current all-time winning percentage leader in college football at 875-305-42, or 73.32%. The Wolverines are currently No. 2, at 911-321-36 (73.26%) and would overtake the Irish with a road victory.

Brenner picks: Fighting Irish 35, Wolverines 28

BYU at Texas ~ 7:35 p.m., Fox Sports 1

Actually, this feels like a leap of faith since we're not sure if Charlie Strong has retained enough scholarship athletes to field a team. He better not lose on his home turf to BYU - which trounced Texas in Provo by 19 last fall - or he'll already start feeling the wrath.

Brenner picks: Longhorns 24, Cougars 20

Virginia Tech at No. 8 Ohio State ~ 8 p.m., ESPN

This still doesn't make sense, the obituaries being written on Ohio State's season. Too much talent besides the quarterback to not be a factor, and honestly, visiting Virginia Tech might end up being a top-two or top-three test all year based on the sad-sack state of the Big Ten.

Brenner picks: Buckeyes 23, Hokies 9

The Rundown

@Boston College 24, Pittsburgh 17 (Friday). Like what Steve Addazio's done up there, think the Atlantic will do its part to make the Coastal all kinds of confusing.

Western Kentucky 35, @Illinois 28. See above remarks on the Big Ten.

No. 20 Kansas State 27, @Iowa State 23. Ames is a tough place to play, and K-State has to avoid the trap-game mentality with Auburn looming.

@Tennessee 41, Arkansas State 21. It's impossible the Vols stay irrelevant much longer.

@Toledo 38, No. 24 Missouri 37. This was a 1-point game through the first 45 minutes last year. In Columbia. When the Tigers ended up the SEC East champion. Times have changed.

@No. 23 Clemson 56, South Carolina State 10. It'll be Florida State week around 4 p.m. Saturday.

@Northwestern 31, Northern Illinois 28. Remember when Pat Fitzgerald was a hot coaching commodity?

No. 15 Ole Miss 20, @Vanderbilt 10. Slugfest in the Music City goes to the Rebs, who won't make things easy for themselves.

@No. 21 South Carolina 38, East Carolina 17. Everybody calm down, please. South Carolina and Clemson are still destined for double-digit wins.


No. 14 USC at No. 13 Stanford ~ 3:30 p.m., ABC

Southern Cal's greatest triumph last fall was spoiling Stanford's title hopes with a gritty performance eking a 20-17 triumph in Los Angeles. Here's how the four previous matchups went: Stanford by a touchdown, Stanford in triple overtime, Stanford by two, Stanford by 34. Maybe there becomes a time Steve Sarkisian becomes the latter-day Pete Carroll and restores the Trojans to top-ten status, but the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era of Stanford football has been extraordinary. Besides, a little motivation from getting jilted in 2013 can't hurt.

Brenner picks: Cardinal 34, Trojans 20

Last week: 11-2

Best call: Auburn 45-24 over Arkansas (ended up being 45-21) . . . FSU 40-35 over Oklahoma State (ended up being 37-31) . . . LSU 24-22 over Wisconsin (ended up being 28-24). I also thought Louisville would crush Miami, as evidenced by my 49-20 guess, so I'm not sure why everyone's shocked Louisville is this awesome.

Worst call: Picking the dastardly Buffaloes over my brother Matt Brenner's alma mater, Colorado State. Sorry 'bout that, lil' bro. Bet you're proud to be a CSU Ram.

Track record: 11-2

That's it for the Pep Talk. Remember, it's only been one game. And this will only be one game. And the one after that is only . well, you get the idea.