Game stats from Saturday and from the ACC Championship Game eerily similar

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CLEMSON – The Clemson defense spent all of spring practice and much of fall camp talking about how times had changed, and defensive lapses, such as occurred during the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech, were a thing of the past.

The Tigers lined up to play their first game of the 2010 season on Saturday however, and some of the numbers were eerily similar to that same ACC Championship Game in which Georgia Tech never punted.

Georgia Tech ran 83 plays for 469 yards of total offense against the Tigers, keeping the ball for over 37 minutes. On Saturday, North Texas ran 83 plays for 462 yards, and kept the ball for a staggering 41:52. Getting the Georgia Tech offense off the field was also a problem in the ACCCG as the Yellow Jackets converted 11-of-18 chances. North Texas converted 11-of-22 chances, and the Tigers managed just one three-and-out against their Sun Belt opponent, a third quarter drive that still managed eight yards.

The biggest difference in the two games is on the scoreboard – the Yellow Jackets scored 39 points in their win while the Mean Green managed just 10 points in a loss, as Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele pointed out.

"The bottom line is that there's a scoreboard at the end of the field and it said 35-10,” Steele said. “And in this business, you better be grateful for that. Now, can we fix this? Absolutely. Frustration? I don't know that this is the right word. But it's a win. And it's hard to win. I just looked in the locker room and saw Jacksonville State and Ole Miss in overtime. From that standpoint, a win is a win.

“And it's hard to win in this business. It's obvious we have some things to work on. What we have to do is tackle better. We didn't look crisp in our tackling. We weren't sharp in our tackling at all, which was very costly. Third down conversions - you look at it and see 11 of 22 - and that's bad. You need to be in the 70-percent range, not 50. You have to get them off the field. When you don't, it adds to their play count.”

Steele said that the Mean Green ran multiple formations and never seemed to run the same play twice.

"They did a lot of good things,” Steele said. “They were all over the map, now. They did some interesting stuff, I'll say that. My hat is off to them. They had a pretty thick game plan in terms of formations and motions and shifts. We came in at half and I promise you they didn't run the same play very many times. But we'll go in and watch it and improve. It's all about ‘here’s where you are and here's where you go.’ “

Steele said the Tigers kept the defensive game plan “simple” and said a lot of that was predicated on what North Texas was doing.

"We had the ability to expand, but they were all over the map,” Steele said. “There were multiple personnels, multiple shifts, multiple formations. We got to a point where we said, 'We're going to keep this package in and we're going to work in it.' Because guys start running off the field and they start changing personnel. It was back and forth and back and forth. It looked like dominos falling on the other sideline."

One of the biggest reasons for the disappointing performance on Saturday was the tackling, which was poor, even for a first game, and Steele said he wasn’t sure why his unit lacked “zip.”

"We've got good players. And they'll work hard,” he said. “We have to recapture that dominant spirit and dominance of people. We have to look at some things. Obviously we didn't tackle well. Sometimes in the first game that happens, but you can't look dead-legged doing it. We didn't look like we had our normal zip. It may have been us staying on the field too long. It may have been us working them too hard. But we can get it corrected. It's a correctable thing."

Steele said if he could take one positive out of the performance, it would be that his unit didn’t’ have busts, but blamed the lack of execution on technique.

“We didn't have busts. We had some technique issues here and there. Early in the game they were running the draw. They came back on a crack screen and got it down. That was just the way you closed to it. That's correctable. We didn't have busts."

Clemson linebacker Corico Hawkins, who said earlier this week that he was going to challenge the defense to be the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation, gave the defense a grade of B-minus.

“We missed a lot of tackles,” Hawkins said. “A lot of tackles, and that really hurt us in the run game. We have to work on that. But it was the first contest, and you have to get that feel for game tackling versus practice tackling. We have to go to practice next week, rep up, and get it corrected. We have to realize that even though you are jacked up, you have to calm down and come out and play. You have to form tackle.”

THE GOOD: The defensive line looked dominant at times, even after defensive tackle Miguel Chavis left on the game’s first drive with a sprained ankle. The Tigers managed five sacks, and four were by defensive linemen. Clemson also had 12 tackles for loss, and nine of those came from the front four.

THE BAD: Lack of big plays and big hits from the linebackers. Brandon Maye, who was out after having knee surgery earlier this week, was sorely missed.

WHAT WE WANTED: A shutdown defense that dominated the opposition’s run game and managed to keep the opposition off the field.

WHAT WE GOT: Over 42 minutes in time of possession for North Texas, along with 11 third-down conversions. Steele did come out in the second half and run more of the nickel package in an effort to corral North Texas quarterback Nathan Tune, and that was somewhat effective.

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