Numbers are ugly for the Clemson defense


by - Senior Writer -
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Swinney said one player that needs to see more time is defensive end Malliciah Goodman.

CLEMSON – The numbers through four games are ugly for the Clemson defense.

The Tigers head into Saturday’s contest against North Carolina in Chapel Hill ranked 85th in the nation – out of 120 teams in the FBS – in total defense. They are 92nd in the nation in rushing defense (181.25 yards per game), 59th in pass defense (204 ypg), and are giving up 385.25 yards per game overall, which is good for 85th.

Those rankings put them just behind teams such as Texas Tech, Utah St., and Iowa St. and ahead of UNLV, Ball St. and Indiana.

Tiger defensive coordinator Kevin Steele met with the media on Wednesday, and said that it’s just a few plays per game that are hurting the defense.

“We've been reviewing everything from A to Z making sure we can help these guys improve,” Steele said. “We've got a lot of talent. We have very energetic guys with good motors. They're playing with toughness, but we've got a little Achilles heel in that we'll give up big plays after playing 65 really good plays. There are five or six plays in the game that are big plays. Now, you're not going to play very many games where you won't have big plays, but I'm talking about big plays that result in touchdowns.”

The Tigers played outstanding at times this past weekend against Miami – only giving up 100 yards in the second half – but three blown coverages led to three Jacory Harris touchdown throws. Two weeks ago at Auburn, one bad quarter and another long touchdown pass cost the defense.

Steele said he understands the frustration with the results, and he agrees that the product on the field has to get better.

“Right now it's us against the world because there aren't a lot of people buying tickets to see us play now and not a lot of fans want to see any of us, which is understandable,” Steele said. “Our job is to perform and be successful and put up more points on the scoreboard than we allow and we haven't done that the last two games.

“Now, those two teams, they’re two good teams. That's the nature of the business we live in. You can't just throw up your hands and say, 'I quit.' We're talented enough and we've got the right frame of mind to get this thing headed in the right direction and eliminate the mistakes. We'll get it right."

Steele was asked about the busted assignments and if he saw any common thread.
"No, not really. We're an equal opportunity group. We've distributed them pretty well."

He said that the coaches and players are just as frustrated as the fans with the lack of results.

"You're frustrated. And we are what we say we are and nobody's happy,” Steele said. “But the truth of the matter is this isn't our first rodeo. That doesn't mean we accept it or we're happy. But when the rest of the world panics, that's when coaches and players knuckle down and go to work. Your good teams do that. We all want to be undefeated and we strive to be undefeated. It’s frustrating.

"Everybody else forgets about it on Monday unless they get online or get on call-in radio, but we have to live it every minute of every day because it’s what we do. It doesn't go away. You go to bed thinking about it, you shower thinking about it, etc. In that, it's a process of getting it right. It's not a panic. It just doesn't work that way."

Due to the rash of mental mistakes, Steele was asked if the defensive schemes were too complicated, and his answer each time was no, and he also said that the game plan against North Carolina wouldn’t change, either.

"The game plan is based on what you're seeing that week,” he said. “You can't just call it [the same play] 12 times. They have guys coaching on the other side who will dial you up so fast you can't see straight. For example, we had a pretty quick comfort level last year with Crezdon [Butler] and PT [Chris Chancellor] and those five guys who started who are in the NFL now. We kind of meshed really quickly and we've taken longer in finding what these guys do well and what they don't. But make no mistake about it, we're not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Senior safety DeAndre McDaniel was victimized at least once for a touchdown by the Hurricanes, and Steele said that McDaniel’s mistakes were due to being aggressive and not passive, which is what he would rather see.

“DeAndre is obviously a great football player,” Steele said. “That's been pretty well documented. He just needs to relax. He's trying too hard and that's not a negative. Giddy-up is not his problem. It’s one of those things where you’d rather say ‘whoa’ than ‘giddy-up.’ He just has to let the plays come to him and he'll be fine."

One comment that drew a few raised eyebrows around the table came when he was asked about the linebackers and if there was something different that could be done, from a scheme standpoint, to get them in better position to affect the game.

"Our system is so broad-based,” Steele said. “We can pull some different things from the library. And we've done some of that this year. There are things we did last year we're not doing this year, playing on the strengths of players."

The rushing yards are a concern, especially considering how well teams ran on this defense at the end of last season, and Steele said that scramble yards can skew the numbers.

"Again, we are what the numbers say we are, but then when you go back and break down every single run and look at it every way you can, there's skewing in that. Number one, scramble yards aren't run-calls. You have to account for it. You have to get him on the ground, but that's not a run call. It's third and 14 and the guy scrambles for 18, that's an 18-yard run. That's not a run call. It's your pass defense and the pass rush of keeping him in the pocket. You can't say it's your run defense. Number two, like the PC game. They had like 41 yards rushing when the first and second teams were on the field. We're a total team. It's a defense, so it doesn’t matter who's out there.

“I’m not saying it is good. But there are a lot of factors involved in it that people just lump together, which really isn't an indicator of true run defense. I'm more concerned about the fact of the 33-yarder the other day in the second drive. You're out there, the game is on the line, you have the best players but there, it's a run call and he hits in the middle, in the A-gap and we miss a tackle. Every gap is covered but we miss a tackle and lose leverage on the backside. That's very correctable. It's not somebody not knowing what to do. It's not somebody being in the wrong place."

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