Ryan Day made sure he didn’t go too far with his words.
In his Monday afternoon interview session, the Ohio State head coach didn’t outright accuse anybody of anything. But he certainly did make a thinly-veiled hint at Clemson’s sign stealing, which has become notorious recently and could be a subplot below the surface of Friday’s Sugar Bowl matchup.
Asked about Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who many analysts around the country believe to be one of the best in his profession, Day complimented him before referencing the mysteriousness behind how he’s able to have such a good idea of what’s coming.
“He's one of the best defensive coordinators in college football,” Day said on Monday. “He does a great job calling the game. Seems to always know exactly what the other team is doing in terms of the plays that they're running, each play. Seems to call the right defense into that play a lot. Why that is, I don't really know, but I can tell you he's been doing it for a really long time and it's a good challenge.”
While Clemson’s reputation for sign-stealing – which is technically not against the rules – has been known behind the scenes for a while, it turned into a national conversation this fall.
An extensive piece by Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde outlined the Tigers’ sign-stealing operation in early November, putting it out there to display publicly. It would be naive to think the practice doesn’t also happen elsewhere in college football, but no team has garnered such recent national attention for it. Numerous anonymous coaches were quoted to back up the claims, including an ACC coach who said Clemson is “the best in the country at stealing signals” and another from the conference who mentioned the Tigers “really utilize it on the defensive side of the ball.”
Some coaches even went on the record in the Sports Illustrated article. Rhett Lashlee, Miami’s offensive coordinator, said Clemson is “known well for doing it,” and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said “you have to be cognizant of it and aware of it,” mentioning that his team was looking at alternatives such as wristbands.
Day didn’t go quite as far as Lashlee and Kelly, preferring not to talk openly about it by mentioning Clemson’s signal-stealing. But it wasn’t too difficult to pick up the inferences he made.
He and Venables are now intensely familiar with each other. A year ago, they met in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal where the Tigers pulled off a 29-23 victory that haunted the Buckeyes in the immediate aftermath and motivated them to get back to the point where they’re once again slated to meet up in the College Football Playoff a year later.
Perhaps even more so than Day, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has a handle on Venables and the Clemson defense. Wilson worked with Venables on Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma staff from 2002 to 2010, with those two then-Sooners coordinating their respective sides of the ball.
“Having worked with coach Venables for nine years, I know the way he coaches, the way he teaches, the way he leads those guys, the way his kids play, the way their defense plays,” Wilson said on Monday. “So you've got your hands full.”