December 24, 2019


DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR BRENT VENABLES: They have players capable of doing that withmore of a balanced monster running back. You know, they’ve been feeding him. I’m not sure if they felt quite as good about their backs then. I think they featured J.T. Barrett a little more in the running game, and then Curtis Samuel. I see more similarities. Just a very balanced and very physical, very explosive — I’m not sure what their rankings were offensively. I know they were really good in ’16.

They’re the number one scoring offense in college football, and the best third-down offense in college football. Almost close to 60% conversion rate, which is just — it’s got to be historical for an offense, other than a triple-option offense, who are typically really good on third down. It’s pretty frightening when you put the tape on, what they have been able to put on the field.

Brent, any bowl season like this, right, in the ACC, you know those teams so well. By now you get a real feel for them. When you really start game planning defensively for a new opponent in bowl season, what’s that like for you?

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR BRENT VENABLES: Usually it’s — at first, you’re always excited to see the first video. And then when you start watching it, it just gives you — because again, when you’re talking about — again, we’ve been fortunate enough to go to five straight playoffs, you’re playing against the absolute best of the best.

And the way teams are built anymore, it’s usually offensively based. And they’re, again, historically good. And so it’s pretty — to be honest, for me personally, I get just — I don’t know if overwhelmed is the right word, but it’s just like, how in the heck are we going to get in their way and trying to understand personality and DNA and philosophy? It’s a challenge.

And then this year, we actually didn’t have near as much time as we’ve had the past years. We had a week less preparation time. And so our first week, we missed recruiting because of championship week. And so that first week out was our only week to be able to recruit. Really had four days. Start in Miami, Florida, to Charlotte to Atlanta to Virginia to Los Angeles. So you’re going all over the place trying to recruit, and trying to get a little bit of game time in there when you can on your plane flights.

So again, just a little bit less time as far as preparation. Ohio State has the same issues.

How does Ohio State compare against the offenses you’ve played against the last five years?

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR BRENT VENABLES: They’re every bit as good. They can match up with anybody. Same. Great quarterback play, great offensive line play, terrific running back, great balance. Take the top off, you have not just one guy, you have got multiple guys that can run right by you.  The secondary, well-coached, great schemes. They have answers. They make adjustments. Have a lot of confidence. They’ve been on this setting, so they have experience. So from that standpoint, comparatively speaking, I would put them all more in the category of being similar. Slight differences in who they are. They’re really, really good.

From your side of the ball, what you’ve been able to do with Clemson and this defense and your time here? How would you compare a Clemson defense? For instance, when you played Ohio State, obviously you change players but, also, you have a core philosophy. How much has the core philosophy of what you do defensively stayed the same in your Clemson time? And how much have you had to adjust to the different guys.

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR BRENT VENABLES: I think every year is different. You have a system and a philosophy. We’re aggressive. We’re press man-to-man. We’re probably a little more multiple this year because we feel like we’ve had to do that. And some years you don’t. A year ago, everybody is like, Oh, you don’t have to do anything. You can just rush four all day. That’s not true. You’re getting different kind of protections, people are chipping and sliding and everything else. You’ve still got to find ways to generate pressure. So I think our philosophy, without question, has been the same. This year we felt like we’ve had to be a little bit more multiple and play to our strengths, which has been our back seven and try to help our young guys.

We have one starter on our defensive line that’s ever started a college football game. That’s what we rolled out there with at fall camp. Two of the starters, not including Tyler Davis who has become a starter, but Jordan Williams and Nyles Pinckney, they did nothing from January all the way until the first day of fall camp. Nothing with the football team. So they were going through different rehabs and some missed winter conditions, summer drills

Isaiah, was PlayStation the sponsor when you came last time?


That was the first year?


What impresses you about this Ohio State offense?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: They have great players at every position. That’s the main thing. Great running back and great receivers as well. They make a lot of tough catches.

For [J.K.] Dobbins specifically, they really relied on him the last four games. Giving him 30-some carries a game. Do you guys go into the game expecting him to carry that kind of load again?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: I would assume so. I give one of my best players the ball. Nobody has really stopped him, so it kind of makes sense. Why not keep giving him the ball if nobody can stop him?

They had to do that the last few games because [Justin] Fields didn’t run the way he did earlier in the season. Are you still preparing as if that’s going to be a threat?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: Yeah, we’re prepared for him to obviously play the best game of the season. That’s what everybody is here obviously to do. So like I said, we’re going to prepare for the greatest run ever.

Why does that make them tougher, the way [Justin] Fields can run?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: You’ve got to cover the whole field. That’s probably the hardest thing to do in football. Just being able to cover the field, stop the run, stop the pass, quite honestly.

As much as you’ve accomplished in the past years, is this still a chance to prove something going up against an offense as good as Ohio State?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: Yeah. A lot of people think we’re not supposed to be here. So I guess it’s more to prove them wrong, because apparently we didn’t play anyone. That’s been the rhetoric out there. I would probably say, yeah, we’ve got a chip on our shoulder, something to play for.

Is it personal motivation for you as well? Either by sticking up for the team or something you want to prove for yourself when you’re on a stage like this?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: Not really. That’s not really a motivator for me. I know what we’ve accomplished and how hard it is to get to where we’re at. We can never discount that. If it was as easy as everyone is saying, then why aren’t more people not doing it? It’s not really motivation for me. It’s all just media talk.

For you personally, what would it be like to go out with another national championship? You’ve already said your plans after this year. But what would that mean for you?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: It would mean a lot. Nobody’s been 30-0 ever with back-to-back CFP national championships. So to make history would be awesome. We made a lot of history this year, just within our team, and I think a couple nationally. Just making history is really cool. It’s not something that happens all the time. That’s why it’s history. To do that and, obviously, it would be nice to leave my last game with a win.

What’s this year been like for you, kind of rising up? I know you try to tune this stuff out, but running up the draft boards, that kind of stuff. What’s it been like going into this year?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: I really don’t pay attention to anything like that. I’ve just been trying to have fun with my teammates and enjoy this whole process and enjoy the moment more than what’s coming in.

Do you guys talk about making history at all? Does that even enter the conversation? Or just hanging out with teammates and the fact that you have a chance to do this 30 back-to-back?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: Everybody definitely knows. Why not make a goal? Dream big. Shoot for the stars. We’re not really — you don’t ever go into a game just hoping to squeeze out and win

everything. You want to have a goal, something you can reach for to do it. You don’t want to — you don’t ever want to go to a game thinking that was my last field goal. You go in the game thinking you can build the team out. Everybody knows what we could do and what’s in front of us. It gives everybody something to strive for.

Does it make it a different feeling for you guys this year, as opposed to last year’s playoffs, when you were going in just looking for another national championship? This year you’re going in to really leave your mark on history.

ISAIAH SIMMONS: Last year we weren’t just going in looking for another championship. We wanted to be the first team to be 15-0 in the CFP. So each and every game is something we’re looking to go get. So this year, it’s kind of the same thing, another 15-0 mindset. It would just happen to be 30-0.

Some of the stuff Dabo [Swinney] says, as far as you guys don’t get any respect, you talked about it some. Do you feel like there’s some, I guess, pressure on this game? Not pressure, but you guys can prove something that maybe you guys have played somebody.And if you do lose, maybe some of that talk about you guys haven’t played anybody is true?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: I don’t think that’s ever going to be true. We’re 9-1 against SEC in our past 10 games. I guess we don’t play anyone still.We don’t really worry about who we play. We worry about who we are and who we got and what we got to do opposed to who we play. I feel like teams that are opponent-focused don’t really succeed as much as teams that are team-driven.

Along those same lines, I know it’s a statement game. It’s such a cliché. It usually never applies to the playoffs. But in some ways, is this kind of a statement game to show the world, Hey, we can beat a team that’s respected across the board?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: Absolutely. Like you said, we’ve got a lack of respect. Apparently we don’t play anyone. But I guess you could say it’s a statement game. Us as a team, we know we can play with the best of the best. So I don’t — if you want to take it as a statement game, we’re just trying to play our best four quarters of the year, no matter who the opponent is.

What did you notice about the Ohio State offensive line watching film?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: They are a veteran group. They all play really well with each other. You can tell they’re players who have played a lot of ball.

Given what Ohio State does, given what I asked you before about [Justin] Fields and how he plays, what does that mean for you specifically? Does it change the game at all to play a team with that kind of balance?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: Absolutely not. I’m just trying to play within the game plan.

I know it’s raining and everything right now. You’re back in Arizona. What it’s it like to be here, in a new spot again and enjoying the desert valley?

ISAIAH SIMMONS: I kind of like it here. I’ve never been here in the summer, so I don’t know if I can say that for sure. I know it’s super hot here. I like it here. It’s really nice. Kind of different. It’s really different compared to where I’m from. I like it, though.

Tanner, how would you compare this year’s defense to last year’s defense?

TANNER M– USE: I think this defense is a little quicker. I think on the back end, we were just getting started. Just getting our groove together. I know that was Isaiah’s first time playing Sam and a couple of other guys at corner and things like that.

But all in all, we had a great frontline that helped us cover it up, you know. But this year, we’re building a really strong back end. We’re kind of young on the front end. So we’ve definitely been trying to help them, but it’s been a whole year. They’ve definitely grown up. I think just the speed that we have on our back end is just really, really good.

How much of the experience of being here and being in this playoff the last few years does that help you this year?

TANNER M– USE: I think it helps me, just personally, because I’m on a loop. Every year I’ve been in this playoff and it’s been awesome. It’s just something I’ve definitely taken advantage of, just being here for this opportunity has been great to me. It helps me just let the young guys just hear my experiences and what I’ve — the things that I take advantage of during this scheduling that we have.

So definitely just my experience has helped everyone.

Tanner, what do you do with all the gear you’ve gotten from all these playoff games?

TANNER M– USE: I usually give them to Mom and Dad. Some things I’ll keep. I’ll probably keep this shirt. This jacket is a little something-something, so I’ll probably just put it in the closet. It’s not my favorite. It is what it is.

What is your favorite thing?

TANNER M– USE: They always do a good job of pants sometimes through the years. They’ve had some really good pants. They’ve had the chrome swoosh, which is really nice. That’s a nice little feature, people are like, Whoa, that’s pretty cool. But, yeah, definitely the pants we’ve gotten over the years.

When do you guys get to celebrate Christmas?

TANNER M– USE: I celebrated Christmas with my mom and dad and them Friday night, just this past Friday. And then we’ll have Christmas tomorrow. So we’ll have that as a team, Christmas morning breakfast, take a little break, go to practice and then that will be it. So I definitely have already done my Christmas and I’m moving on.

Looking at this wide receiver group that Ohio State has, what’s your impressions of them?

TANNER M– USE: Definitely really good. Crafty route runners, speed, whole the nine yards. I think the tight ends do a great job as well just being receivers, as well as the quarterback. You can’t really take a play off when you’re covering those guys because they’re always very dangerous. So looking into that, you’ve just got to be able to understand your scheme, understand where your help is and just be locked down the best you can.

You were on the 2016 team, do you remember kind of that offense and how this is similar or different?

TANNER M– USE: Yeah, J.T. Barrett and the boys. Curtis Samuel was their go-to guy. At the time, I think it was [Mike] Weber, Jr. was their running back. I think we had kind of like a key thing on Curtis Samuel because he was obviously one of their better players. And trying to contain J.T. He was a very good guy as well at the time. Just making sure he was — just take care of them.

How does this offense compare to that one?

TANNER M– USE: It’s not the same. By no means. I think they’re better in all phases. So we really have to bring it this time just because they’re so much better. They’re just better in every facet of the game.

What does this matchup mean for Isaiah [Simmons]? I mean, as far as — just obviously the versatility of the Ohio State offense, especially with the way [Justin] Fields can run the ball? Does having someone like Isaiah on defense factor into trying to neutralize that?

TANNER M– USE: Yes and no. He’s obviously featured that in a lot of game plans, but you don’t want to bring the same thing. People can’t key in on that. They’ll adjust and things like that, or they’ve already adjusted to it, what they think is going to happen. You have got to bring different aspects of the game — or what you do to your offense. We’re definitely going to have to do different things. But he’s obviously going to be a big factor in the game. Don’t let me tell you he’s not. But, yeah, he’s going to have to do different things and use him the best we can.

You mentioned route running for the Ohio State receivers. How does that make it difficult on a defensive back? Those can sometimes be tougher matchups than someone who is more athletic but sloppier with their protection.

TANNER M– USE: Definitely. You take a guy like Hunter Renfroe, super crafty. He’s probably the hardest guy I’ve ever covered. He beat me all the time. But he wasn’t overly fast. He wasn’t overly powerful. He was just super crafty. When you’ve got guys like that, it just makes it so difficult because they understand your leverage, they understand where they’ve got to be. It’s just really a nightmare.

Tanner, I know the running backs group has honored C.J. [Fuller] and Tyshon [Dye] with the heartbeat shirts. Have you seen those shirts?

TANNER M– USE: I have not seen those shirts, no, sir.

Were you around when those two guys were on the program?

TANNER M– USE: I definitely was around. Tyshon, when I first got here, I had a really crap practice. He said, Hey, man. Keep your head up. Just keep grinding and you’ll earn yourself a scholarship. I was so mad. I’m like, Tyshon, I’m on scholarship. And he’s like Oh, that’s what’s up. That’s my first interaction with Tyshon. But he’s always been nice and super encouraging to me. And then C.J. as well. He’s always bright that light wherever he went, real spirited and just a great guy. It’s tough — it was tough on the guys that were here when they were here. But definitely is very cool people remembering them and honoring them.

Why do you think he didn’t think you were on scholarship?

TANNER M– USE: Probably my skin tone and playing safety. You don’t see many. But that was kind of his point. I ain’t never seen no white boy play safety. Yeah, there’s a few of us.

How has them passing, how has that changed your perspective during your time at Clemson?

TANNER M– USE: Them passing, definitely life is precious. C.J. [Fuller] went into surgery, it happened. Tyshon [Dye], just a nice day at the lake. They had so much to give to the community, so much just to give to just everyone they were around opinion.

What’s the best thing about having Isaiah Simmons on your defense?

JAMES SKALSKI: He’s so versatile, you know? He can cover you. As in, like, if you mess something up a little bit, I mean, you know that guy is behind you flying around. So he’s so versatile. He can cover up mistakes quick, and he’s just a great player.

How do you see someone like him being especially important in a matchup like this? Ohio State can be versatile as well, what they do offensively between the running game and the passing game. Even with the running game they got [Justin] Fields and [J.K.] Dobbins. How does Isaiah [Simmons] neutralize that?

JAMES SKALSKI: We’re going to need him to show up and play well. That’s how you win games. Your best players show up and play well. If he just plays his game and does his job, just like all of us, we’ll be all right.

I think you’re probably already getting questions about respect. And your coaches talked about it, too. Does that factor in a little bit for him, too? Do you feel like Isaiah [Simmons] hasn’t maybe gotten his national credit or due as much as he needs it?

JAMES SKALSKI: He’s a Butkus Award winner. That’s pretty solid, if you ask me.

But he’s not maybe a household name the way Chase Young is, for example.

JAMES SKALSKI: Well, that’s probably more of a question for him. But, I mean, around South Carolina, around Clemson, I tell you, everyone knows how special he is. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.

Ohio State, the way Chase Young plays, can that be something the rest of the team feeds off of? Have there been examples this year where Isaiah [Simmons] has been that kind of factor for you guys?

JAMES SKALSKI: 100%. You see him make plays, and it’s just a whole energy. I mean, that’s — that’s football in general, man. You’ve got guys showing up on first down and making big plays. I mean, that’s just momentum. Everyone else just feeds off of it. And he’s definitely been probably the focal point of that constant this year.

How did the support of the program manifest in those few weeks after your dad passed?

JAMES SKALSKI: Well, I can remember just like yesterday being in the office with Coach [Dabo] Swinney. They were no longer coaches. They were just there for me. Football was out the window, who cares it’s about being a man then.

They were just rocks in my life at that point. I mean, after that — something cool about this place, it’s football and then it’s life, family, and being a man. They are together, but there’s a time and place for that. And the rest, you have to do that. And that’s going to be the rest of your life, too. And they did such a good job of separating the two and helping me understand how important it is.

Meeting with Coach [Dabo] Swinney and [Brent] Venables, is that when you went back?

JAMES SKALSKI: That’s right when I found out. I remember being in his office right then and there. But, yeah. We were preparing for our focus Fridays. And my neighbor had called me and said something had happened right before I was going to go to the team meeting. I didn’t think anything of  And then I thought about what she said, something is wrong. Then I got into the facility and I remember the GAs and stuff are coming up to me and saying, I’m praying for you. They found out after I did.