CLEMSON — Brent Venables did not wait to get on the plane.
It was early Saturday morning, and Clemson had just learned its game scheduled for noon against Florida State had been cancelled.
As team officials searched for a pilot to shepherd the Tigers’ early flight home, Venables saw an opportunity. The defensive coordinator gathered his players. It was time to move on to Pittsburgh, he said. And so they did, from inside the massive multipurpose tent set up outside the Holiday Inn in Tallahassee, Fla.
Venables put on some film.
“There was a lot of uncertainty, probably anger, frustration, probably. You can kind of just feel it in the air,” Venables said. “Really just wanted our guys to take their attention to what’s literally sitting in front of them.”
That meant moving on from the Seminoles, whose administrators declined to participate in the scheduled game after learning a Tigers backup offensive lineman who had traveled to Tallahassee had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.
The Tigers learned of the positive test Friday after landing.
As the college football world attempted to parse through what had happened, Venables turned his group’s attention to Clemson’s game against the Panthers scheduled for Nov. 28.
“Very weird to be in Florida on vacation and watching film on Pitt,” defensive end K.J. Henry said. “But we had a focused group and did what needed to be done.”
Shortly after learning the news, linebacker Mike Jones Jr. reached out to his parents, who were driving to the game, and told them to turn around. Saturday was supposed to mark his first appearance since Oct. 24.
He put his phone down, gathered his thoughts and focused on the film.
“I was sitting right beside (Venables) so it was hard to not be locked in, right beside him,” Jones said.
Venables’ unit will not have a cakewalk this weekend against a Pitt team averaging 30.9 points per game.
The Tigers last played Nov. 7 at Notre Dame in a 47-40 overtime defeat. The Fighting Irish compiled 518 yards of total offense, including 208 on the ground.
Stopping the run will continue to be a big point of emphasis for Clemson moving forward.
The workhorse of the Panthers’ ground game is sophomore running back Vincent Davis, who’s rushed for 366 yards and five touchdowns on 113 carries this season. Senior quarterback Kenny Pickett provides a steady veteran presence.
That’s why Venables wanted to get a head start on preparation. It remains unclear what will become of the Tigers’ scheduled game against Florida State, but when Pittsburgh comes to Death Valley on Saturday, the Clemson defense will be ready.
“That’s kind of the mindset we have,” Jones said. “Ain’t nothing guaranteed. They could shut it all down next week, this week, we’d be done. So we take it day by day.”
Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.