CLEMSON -- Leave it to Clemson defensive coordinator Reggie Herring to spin
his defensive unit's No. 1 national ranking in total defense this way:
"You're thinking losers football if you're thinking about that stat."
Herring isn't one to let anything go to his players' heads. You wonder if he
missed his calling as a Marine drill sergeant. At the first day of spring
practice you would have heard him talking to his players about playing every
play like the national championship is on the line. You wonder what he uses
midway through the season to motivate his players.
One thing is certain, he didn't bring in brownies to celebrate the No. 1
ranking in total defense.
"That stat is so insignificant right now, I could care less," he said. "This
team could not care less. There are only two stats we care about - scoring
defense and turnover margin. That other stat is a loser stat. Our approach
is that we're looking forward and not backward."
For the record, Clemson is No. 1 in scoring defense and turnover margin as
well. The Tigers have given up 16 points in three games and have taken the
ball away ten times compared to one giveaway, which was on a kickoff return.
It's not the easiest job for Herring to convince the unit that it needs to
improve. But he's giving it his best shot.
"There's still a lot of improvement that has to be made," he said. "We still
have missed assignments and kids that are loafing. We have to have a
full-team commitment to chase the football and not miss assignments. Then
we'll be satisfied. But we'll never be satisfied."
The thing in the back of Herring's mind is a stretch during the middle of
last season when the defense allowed 35 points in a loss to N.C. State and
30 points in a win over Maryland. Head coach Tommy Bowden admittedly doesn't
spend much time going over Herring's game plan, but he's watching closely to
see if the defense can be consistent through this season.
Clemson plays at Virginia on Saturday in what most consider the Tigers'
biggest challenge so far. Virginia (2-1 overall) is nearly as good as
Clemson in turnover margin and is ranked 17th nationally in total offense.
Virginia's defense is also a step ahead of Wake Forest, which gave up 55
points to Clemson last Saturday.
Add to the stats the fact that Virginia suffered a humiliating loss to
Clemson last year in Death Valley and you can see why Bowden is concerned.
"As you upgrade the talent level on the other side, you're not going to
score that many points," said Bowden. "We'll see if we've corrected last
year's problem of being more consistent on both sides of the ball."
Virginia quarterback Dan Ellis is the player Herring talks about the most.
Ellis had completed 64 percent of his passes this season.
"Dan Ellis does a tremendous job," said Herring. "We're facing an offense
that averages 440 total yards and 260 to 280 yards a game passing. They have
a fifty percent third down conversion rate. That's unheard of."
Someone should tell Herring that Clemson is converting 55 percent of its
third down plays. Herring's not interested, though.
"What we've got to do is step it up this week and compete," he said.