CLEMSON — The last time Clemson’s defense brought more than two interceptions back for touchdowns in a season, Brent Venables was playing linebacker at Garden City Community College.
Fourth-year players Darius Robinson and Martin Jenkins, the two Clemson cornerbacks who put six on the board in the same game Saturday (a school first), weren’t even born in the fall of 1990, when three Tigers picked off a quarterback and found the end zone.
“Pick-6s don’t fall out of the tree,” said Venables, Clemson’s second-year defensive coordinator. “But that being said, I would hope the turnovers and aggressive mentality are a byproduct of the players understanding what they’re doing and playing in an aggressive manner.”
Yes, the opponent was S.C. State, an average team by its FCS standards and no match for third-ranked Clemson.
But other teams around the nation have had one or two cupcake matchups, and only eight other FBS squads have multiple pick-6s (only No. 17 Northwestern and No. 23 Nebraska join Clemson in the rankings.)
“It shows we’ve got some guys with good ball skill, awareness, know what to do with the football when they get it,” Venables said Tuesday. “It’s kind of a collective effort, in regards of guys playing with an attack mentality.”
The other two veteran corners in Clemson’s rotation are Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland. Breeland’s only been working out at corner, but he is an option at safety if something happens to Robert Smith or Travis Blanks, since alternatives are thin due to youth and injuries.
“At some point this season,” Venables said, “that depth’s going to be tested.”
As eager as Venables sounded going into week two about the return of freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander, he was extremely discouraged about his status into the Tigers’ bye week.
Last Tuesday, Alexander strained a pulled groin suffered in fall camp and is shelved for an indefinite period.
“I don’t know. I have no idea. I saw him, but didn’t ask him anything about his injury yesterday,” Venables said. “I’m sure he’s making incremental improvements.”
Although Alexander would be an ideal young talent to challenge those first four, Venables won’t make evaluations based on the five stars ESPN.com’s recruiting services attached to the player from Immokalee, Fla.
“When somebody says he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go, and we’ll see what he can do. But I literally have not seen him practice one rep since he’s been on our campus,” Venables said. “It’s an enigma to me. But he’ll be fine. Whether it’s this year or next year, we’ll see.”
The chances of Alexander redshirting are growing each day, so long as Robinson, Jenkins, Peters and Breeland stay upright.
“Unless it was an absolute emergency, if you lost a couple guys and he was ready to go here in five or six games, I’ve been on teams where you’ve had to do that,” Venables said. “That’s not ideal, but we’ll cross that bridge if and when we need to.”
Another break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option is Marcus Edmond, who head coach Dabo Swinney said has been accelerated in practices in the event a true freshman is needed.
“If you’ve got four, and you’re solid at four, and there’s no injuries at four, you’d like to think you can get by without trying to play (Edmond), in fairness to him before he can get out there and perform pretty good,” Venables said. “Would he be better than those four? Probably not right now, but he’s got a bright future. It would be ideal for him to redshirt and get stronger and improve in a lot of the little things.”
Quarterback Tajh Boyd noticed South Carolina State focusing on taking away fly routes, so even though he connected with receiver Martavis Bryant a couple times, Boyd could sense a trend emerging.
“I kind of wanted to hit the deep ball a little bit more, so I didn’t take my checkdowns and tried to create some things,” said Boyd, considered an early frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. “I just have to play the game, take what’s there. Obviously, I don’t think a lot of teams are going to let us try to go deep; that’s just something I may have to get used to.”
During his weekly chat with local media, Boyd casually referred to watching the most hyped matchup this Saturday: No. 1 Alabama at No. 6 Texas A&M.
Naturally, the next question to Boyd (which multiple reporters instinctively asked): who ya got?
“Honestly? I got A&M,” Boyd said. “A lot of people say (Nick) Saban won’t be beat twice; it’s at A&M. it’s going to be a competitive game. It’s going to be a fun game. I’m excited to watch it. It’s going to be an intriguing game.”