Chunk plays hurting Clemson defense

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CLEMSON – “Chunk” plays are proving to be critical for the Clemson defense.

Two weeks ago at Auburn, the Clemson defense was dominant for three quarters, but a 21-point third quarter and over 250 yards of offense played a huge part in Clemson’s loss to their SEC foe.

In the first half on Saturday against the Miami Hurricanes, it was a 20-point second quarter and 10 plays that did the Tigers in.

The Hurricanes ran 41 plays for 280 yards in the first half, but 31 of those plays went for just a net of 19 yards. The other 10 plays were responsible for 261 yards.

In fact, Miami had 10 plays of 11 yards or longer in the first half, including a pair of third-down touchdowns covering 22 and 65 yards that Jacory Harris and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson made look easy.

“We gave them three big plays and we were playing from behind the whole game,” safety DeAndre McDaniel said.

Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers said it was frustrating to have that happen for the second consecutive game.

“That’s basically what our biggest problem was – that’s how Auburn beat us,” Bowers said. “Those are the kind of plays we have to eliminate as a team.”

Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said Miami’s success running the football, and all three touchdowns in the second quarter, were due to missed assignments.

“Really on that deal, on the second drive where they had a 15, 11 and a 33-yard run, we had some unbalanced issues with one of our fronts,” Steele said. “The passes that we got, the first TD, that was just a busted coverage. We had a player line up on the wrong side of the field. The second, they ran a bubble and came up the field. We had a vision problem. The third one, down in the red zone was after a turnover. We pressured thinking they were going to take a shot, which they did, but took our eyes off the man and didn't cover him. The third one - that was a dirty route. We have to work on that one.”

The Clemson defense played better in the second half – just like they did in the fourth quarter at Auburn -limiting Miami to 96 yards and three points.

It is those long stretches of dominance that have Steele convinced his unit can do it for an entire game, but also have him shaking his head at some of the things he sees.

“In the first half, we did some good things, but it's the story of the last 15 games,” Steele said. “We did some good things, but also did some things that I was like ‘Wow, what was that?’ We had a position there at the end [in the fourth quarter] to give us another opportunity after the fourth-and-one stop. We're in a pressure and they catch a six-yard route, then we get a penalty and really didn't effectively play well on that. We got a stop but they got a field goal.”

Steele then said that Clemson defense has a chance to be special, but that won’t happen until the mistakes stop.

"Again, we have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” Steele said. “We have to overcome the fact of being really good. We have to find that button and get it pushed and we will. The guys are trying hard. They're giving us all they've got. We'll get it corrected. But, that's a good football team we played out there, too."

McDaniel said the team made the proper halftime adjustments, but the Tigers have to learn to eliminate the busted coverages that led to second quarter scores.

“They jumped out in the first half, and we came in at halftime and talked about it,” McDaniel said. “We know what kind of defense we have. Coach Steele told us to stay focused and went out in the second half and shut them down. But if we eliminate the three miscommunications on the three touchdowns, we are probably beating them 21-7.

“They have great players, and we knew we were in for a challenge. But three of their scores were just given to them. It was mistakes – people lining up in the wrong place, or making a call on one side of the defense and the other side making a different call. It’s simple stuff that we can correct. We just have to make sure we do it consistently.”

Bowers was a bright spot for Steele’s defense as he had 4.5 tackles for loss, including one sack. He now ranks in the top 10 in the nation in tackles for loss with 10.5 in four games after managing just 11 all last season.

Bowers said the Tigers still have all of their goals on the table.

“All losses are tough, but we’re not going to let this set us back any,” Bowers said. “We’ve got a job to do. We’ve got a goal set to win the ACC Championship this year and we’ve got to work hard toward that.”

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