Brent Venables’ Coming Out Party
Finally! The defense shows up, leading the Tigers to a victory for the first time this season. Offensively, Clemson struggled to get into a rhythm early, and this kind of performance usually doesn’t bode well for the Tigers. Saturday was a different story. Despite scoring only ten points on offense in the first half, Clemson maintained the lead going into the locker room. Safety Jonathan Meeks intercepted Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas twice in the first half, one of which was taken back 74 yards for a touchdown. At the half, Clemson led 17-10.Clemson came into this week surrendering 445 yards per game, ranked 10th in the ACC. Virginia Tech managed to gain 406 yards against the Tigers, but Clemson held the Hokies to seventeen points, their best defensive performance of the year other than holding Furman to seven. First-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, ”We don’t have to play like Alabama yet, although we’d like to. But we can definitely play better than we have up to this point and hopefully today was a sign of moving in the right direction.”
Clemson’s offensive production was its lowest of the season, totaling only 295 yards. Boyd threw for 160 yards (131 below his season average), one touchdown and one interception. Virginia Tech’s defense caught Clemson off guard, holding them to 6-15 on third down conversions and hurrying Boyd on the majority of his drop backs. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris revived the Tigers’ offense during halftime, and Clemson showed their true colors to finish the game. Andre Ellington rushed for 96 yards on 19 carries, including a 12-yard touchdown run in the second half. Sammy Watkins had his best performance to date with eight catches for 84 yards. Not surprisingly, receiver DeAndre Hopkins had another receiving touchdown despite only totaling three catches for 68 yards. Clemson has now defeated their intra-conference rivals three times in the last 385 days after losing their last five matchups with Virginia Tech dating back to 1998.
Daniel Rodriguez, a True American Hero
Clemson kicked off Military Appreciation Day by following walk-on receiver Daniel Rodriguez down the Hill. Rodriguez is a United States Army Veteran who was presented with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in Afghanistan who rightfully stole the spotlight in Death Valley Saturday. In early August, Rodriguez was cleared by the NCAA and the ACC to join Clemson’s football team as a walk-on receiver. He played football at Brooke Point High School in Stafford, Virginia. He enjoyed the game, but his family struggles would prevent him from pursuing a college football career, at least out of high school. Daniel’s father, Ray, passed away four days after his high school graduation. The 18-year-old was stunned and had no idea how to deal with his grief in the moment. He wanted an escape. He chose the Army. “I went to the recruiter and said, ‘Get me away from here,’ ” Daniel reflected.
His first journey took him to Iraq, and he served there during 2007 and 2008. His second tour led him to Afghanistan where he was a part of the Battle of Kamdesh in October 2009, one of the deadliest fights in the war. Taliban members stormed the American outpost, out numbering them ten to one. Eight Americans died that day. Rodriguez was pierced by shrapnel in his neck and leg, and a bullet fragment penetrated through his shoulder. He survived, and Rodriguez received a Bronze Star Medal along with a Purple Heart for his service. He was granted an honorable discharge in 2010 but not before being promoted to staff sergeant.
Daniel’s dream has always been to play college football, and he promised his friend Kevin Thompson, who died in the battle of Kamdesh, that he would pursue it. Rodriguez began training tirelessly when he got home from overseas to prepare himself for a push in Division I football. A friend videotaped his six-hour workouts and posted them on YouTube. According to Daniel, “They went viral.” He received interest from over forty schools, including Clemson’s coach Dabo Swinney. Dabo, a former wide receiver walk-on at the University of Alabama, has the utmost respect for the Army veteran, and he gave Rodriguez a chance to pursue his dream.
Pound for pound, Daniel is the strongest player on Clemson’s team. He has been seen doing one handed pushups with a twenty-five pound weight in the opposite hand, running the stairs in Death Valley with a gas mask on, and he does 200 pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups each day. The chances of Daniel out-playing receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins are slim, but he will play his role on the kickoff team and continue to work hard to reach his potential.
Thursday Night Showdown at Wake Forest
Clemson coaches called a mandatory Sunday night practice for the first time this season to prepare for a hungry Wake Forest squad on Thursday night. If Clemson wins, it will mark their fourth consecutive Thursday night victory against Wake. Clemson averages 40.9 points and 492 yards per game on offense. Wake’s averages come in at 22.0 and 316, respectively. With Clemson’s defense beginning to gel, the hope for Demon Deacon fans seems pretty slim.
“You got to go do it again and do it again, that’s what the season’s about,” Venables said. “The funnest times I’ve had as a coach is when I’ve seen great improvement from the beginning of the year until the end.” Coming off a solid defensive performance in week seven, the Tigers plan to build on their momentum in an Atlantic Division ACC game, nationally televised on Thursday night. Clemson has scored at least 37 points in every game, including the 49-37 loss to Florida State, since scoring 26 against Auburn in their season opening win. The spread is 12.5 with Clemson as the favorite. I’ll take the Tigers to cover with a 41-20 victory.