McDaniel a leader to the end; defense struggles on 3rd down

by - Senior Writer -

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – DeAndre McDaniel was a leader to the very end.

The senior All-American safety gathered his teammates around him following Friday’s loss to South Florida, and laid his heart on the line for his Tigers one last time.

“I spoke to the team. I told them that if they fight like this, they are going to have a great future. They fought til the end. We’ve fought all year. We haven’t been getting breaks all year. They fought all year with us. I know the seniors aren’t going to be here next year but we’re gonna be watching.

“All I ask is for them to work hard this year and go out and fight like this. it felt bad to lose. We lost the last one and we ended up with a losing season, but like I told them boys, just go out this spring and work hard. As long as they continue to fight like they did out there, the sky is the limit for those boys.”

McDaniel battled to the very end, and it was his play on the last onside kick that effectively ended the season. McDaniel came down with the ball, but he was a half-yard early on the touch and the ball was given to South Florida.

“I thought I got the 10 yards,” he said. “I saw it on the replay. Once I caught the ball, I tried to fall over the line. Once the ball hit my hand, I looked down and saw the line and went across it. We can’t get it to fall our way. We don’t get the breaks. All we can do is move forward.

I can’t take anything away from it. All I can do is continue to work and tell those guys to continue to work. We fight every time we come out. Every game we play we fight til the end and we proved that today. We proved that we weren’t going to give up.”

Two keys to the Clemson defense’s struggles were the screen plays run by the Bulls, and the ability of the Bulls to convert on third down. The Bulls converted 29% of their third downs during the season, but were 9-of-14 against the Tigers.

“They knew when to run it [screen plays],” McDaniel said. “They saw which defense we were in. We didn’t do too much disguising. They saw we had two men out there and they had trips. That’s what they read. If it wasn’t open on the zone, that’s what they were going to do. I’ve got to watch replays of what happened on third downs.

“We just couldn't get off the field on third down. It was kind of stunning because we expected to play better. We had our spots where we looked real good and spots where we looked real bad. We just had to stay focused and continue to do our jobs.”

McDaniel ended by saying he hopes next year’s team gets the breaks this season’s didn’t.

“It only bothers me because I was a senior,” he said. “Those guys who are going to be here next year aren’t going to have a season like this. They saw what we went through. They saw how hard we fought and they fought hard along with us. Next year they’ll get the breaks. I see a great season right now. I see at least eight-plus wins. I told them to just get ready.

“This is where the ACC Championship is played. Just get ready to play here. I hate going out with a losing record. This is something we aren’t used to in the history of Clemson. The last losing season was in 1998. It feels bad. I was a part of the senior class and we couldn’t get it the way we wanted. Those guys will learn from it and push forward.”

*Kevin Steele quotes following the game:
“As a defensive football team, you are going to have situations where you have to respond to adversity and that’s across the nation. There were times where we responded well and times where we didn’t finish if it off like we could have. You have to force field goals or a chance to block field goals when you give up turnovers in scoring position and we didn’t do that. You look at the whole picture. I haven’t seen the stats, but I came in at half time they had rushed the ball 15 times for 26 yards. We were effective against the run. We go back the second half and we lost our edge rusher on a draw and they hit an 18-yarder. What really happened to us was on third down and scrambles were missed tackles on third down situations and contain. We got them in third down situations and we couldn’t stop them- all on either lose contain, missed tackle off the field or they scrambled and somebody took their eyes off their guy and looked back and the completion was two yards from the guy. We didn’t execute very well in those situations.”

On South Florida throwing the ball quickly: “The ball was coming out quick. They didn’t run very many drop back pass plays. They were running screens and the ball was coming out quick. Boot away from him and screen- that’s not really a sack game.

“We didn’t really see anything. They were a boot and screen team coming him. They got it out quick. They probably threw more in the vertical game throughout the year than they did today. Not probably, they did- we didn’t see any vertical passing today.”

On responsibility for the effort: “In this business you take responsibility. Obviously, there are things that we have to do better and we know what they are. We’ll get them done better. The assessment of the season as whole because it goes game-to-game and week-to-week in that progression, the total self-study is not going to occur after the game or in a day. It’s going to occur over the next two months and we’ve got a pretty good packet of self-study that we’ll do. The rest of it is just emotion. To comment on emotion is probably not wise because you’re frustrated.”

*Clemson junior defensive end Da’Quan Bowers needed just one sack in the final two games to break the Clemson single-season record, and he failed to reach the milestone.

Bowers said the defensive struggles came down to not getting a key stop.

“They threw some different things at us that we haven’t seen before, but I thought we had some key stops. We just couldn’t get it done when we needed to. You don’t want to be known as having a losing record here at Clemson. We pride ourselves on our record. We just couldn’t get it done today.”

Bowers said he wanted the sack, and was disappointed on not being able to accomplish the feat.

“It was a tough situation,” he said. “I just couldn’t get it. I would turn all those sacks in for a winning season. It’s not about individual stats, it’s about a team effort. I thank all of my teammates for their support over the last year.

They slowed down our pass rush. We had linebackers dropping 10 or 15 yards into coverage. Our defensive line, we just had to try to get back to the screen. There was a space there that we couldn’t get back to fast enough. “

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