7 at 7: Clemson coaches eye VanGorder’s defensive schemes

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, left, and running backs coach Tony Elliott go over the schedule before NCAA college football practice Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

CLEMSON – Seven notes from co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, safety Jayron Kearse and the gang at the WestZone during Clemson’s Monday interviews:

1) Clemson coaches have watched plenty of Notre Dame 2014 tape – particularly the Florida State game in which the Fighting Irish came oh-so-close to toppling the Seminoles in Tallahassee – and they’ve also done their due diligence on Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s schemes.

The night of Brent Venables’ first game as Clemson defensive coordinator was also the night of VanGorder’s first game as Auburn’s defensive coordinator. The Tigers – er, the Clemson Tigers – prevailed 26-19 in what was, and trust this beat writer, no worse than Auburn’s second-finest effort of a 3-9 season. (A 12-10 home loss to LSU was pretty good, too.)

What the Clemson coaches have seen is a change in how VanGorder attacks offenses, simply because he’s got better players at his disposal.

“When he was at Auburn, it was more 4-down, 2-safety structure,” Elliott said. “They’re still going to base out of 2-shell, but they’re going to be a lot more aggressive. They’ve got some really exotic odd packages where they bring pressure, where they’ll stand big guys up in space and try to get them matched up on the back. They play a lot more man coverage than in the past. He’s got the personnel. They’re still going to be sound. They’re going to take some chances, but they’ve got some athletes on the back end that can make up for chances they take up front.”

The Fighting Irish will be the first team to actually play press coverage and dare the Tigers’ receivers to go deep.

“As a receiver, you want to be challenged. But they’ve got to go back to those guys on the perimeter making the competitive 1-on-1 play,” Elliott said. “It’s very similar to what they go against in practice every day against Mackensie (Alexander) and those guys.”

2) Interesting question posed to Elliott Monday: is it possible to recruit players who seem to shine on the brightest stage, rather than talented kids who figure to shrink in the spotlight?

“When you’re evaluating, you want to test their character and competitive toughness,” Elliott said. “Obviously some kids are more prepared because of the high school situation they come from. But nothing’s going to prepare them for an 8 o’clock kickoff in Death Valley against Notre Dame. It’s going to come down to maintaining your discipline and executing at a high level when there’s a lot more atmosphere involved.”

3) Telling statistic tweeted last night by ESPN’s Joe Schad: Clemson is 5-2 under head coach Dabo Swinney against teams ranked in the top 10, when the Tigers are ranked lower in the polls.

The wins: 2009 at No. 8 Miami, the 2011 ACC Championship over Virginia Tech, the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl over LSU, 2013 vs. Georgia and the 2014 Orange Bowl over Ohio State. The losses: 2012 and 2014 at Florida State.

You could also throw in there a couple of losses in 2013, to FSU and South Carolina when the Tigers were ranked higher; but you could also throw in there a couple of wins in 2011, when Clemson was ranked lower than Florida State and Virginia Tech – each ranked No. 11 in consecutive weeks, a spot outside the top ten – and the Tigers beat the Noles and Hokies in succession.

Point is, Clemson has done quite well against top-10 opponents.

4) So Kearse won’t mind getting physical with the Irish, and not just with his motorized mouth.

“They’re getting a bit chippy. They’re talking a lot through the media and things like that. I would just say I hope the ref lets us play football,” Kearse said. “It’s going to be a chippy game, so they can expect that from me. They expect some trash talk. I’m ready to go up against Will Fuller, ready to catch him, and give those guys what I got. They’re talking a lot.

“Obviously, they don’t know what we do down here in Death Valley. Looking forward to meeting the running back in the hole, catching Will Fuller on the post, whatever it takes, I’m ready for it.”

5) It’s a little bit personal for Kearse, a south Florida product who said Notre Dame was in his final five as a recruit.

“They were in contention all the way until I visited Clemson,” Kearse said. “When I came up here over the summer, I knew I wanted to come here.”

Kearse did not take a visit to South Bend.

6) We’ll have more from a couple of the Tigers who were highly-recruited by Notre Dame a little in the week, especially redshirt freshman defensive end Richard Yeargin. He was a Fighting Irish verbal commit for six months.

Generally, Yeargin’s patiently awaiting his turn to contribute to the line, backing up Shaq Lawson.

“You’ve just got to wait for your opportunity sometimes,” Yeargin said. “Just have to be patient and stay confident and be humble and learn from those older guys that are in front of you. It’s a big challenge, but you have to be ready whenever your name is called.”

7) And finally, Tony Elliott was thrilled for his buddy, Jeff Scott, who became a first-time father Thursday with his wife, Sara, welcoming the couple’s daughter, Savannah.

“First time I’d seen him since the birth, and he came back with a big smile on his face, man,” Elliott said Monday. “I know that’s something they’ve been wanting to do for a while. For their timing to happen, I couldn’t be happier for them. You saw a glow on Jeff’s face this morning when he walked into the office.”

-AB