BOISE, Idaho - It sounds like such a simple concept: Stop Luke McCown and you
stop Louisiana Tech.
Were McCown a running back, or perhaps a pass-rushing defensive end, then
Clemson's chances of pulling off the trick might be more realistic. But
McCown is a quarterback, and a good one.
He's a young gunslinger with plenty of weapons from which to choose. He
throws it an average of 42 times per game for an average of 313 yards. And
against a Clemson secondary allowing 226 yards per game and 28 TD passes on
the year, the probability of footballs flying in every direction is great.
But defensive coordinator Reggie Herring isn't resigned to the fact that his
team will be riddled with McCown bullets, much as history suggests that will
be the case. When Clemson and La. Tech square off in today's Humanitarian
Bowl (12:30 p.m., ESPN) Herring will have a few surprises waiting for McCown
"We've faced some very good offenses this year, teams like Florida State and
Georgia Tech," Herring said. "This offense is every bit as good as those. So
we're going to have to mix it up. It's a tremendous challenge for us because
we haven't played well in the secondary."
For starters, Clemson will open the game in a new look designed to offer help
in the secondary and get its best athletes on the field to make plays.
Instead of the usual four defensive linemen, Herring will start three - a
nose tackle and two defensive ends (Khaleed Vaughn and Bryant McNeal). Rodney
Thomas, who has been playing outside linebacker most of the season, will move
inside with Chad Carson. Sophomore John Leake and true freshman Eric Sampson
will start on the outside.
Nick Eason and Eric Coleman will be the backups at defensive end. DeJuan
Polk, Jovan Bush and Donnell Washington will rotate at nose tackle.
Leake and Sampson will be the keys. They will be asked to do it all: provide
run support, pressure McCown with the blitz from the outside and, most
importantly, provide coverage help against Tech's four and five wide receiver
The look will be that of a 3-4 defense, though in reality Leake and Sampson
likely will be spending more time in coverage than anything else.
"We've got to get better athletes on the field," Herring said. "Really what
we're in is a dime package: three defensive linemen, two linebackers and six
defensive backs. We're getting better athletes out in space, trying zone
coverage and man (coverage), to mix up some things and give up multiple
Herring expects to use every coverage trick in the book in an attempt to
Expect to see a zone-blitz scheme, with pressure coming from every possible
angle. Expect to see the field split in half: man-to-man coverage on one
side, zone on the other. Expect to see two-deep, and sometimes even
Expect to see zone underneath and man coverage in the back. Expect to see a
three-man rush and eight in coverage.
All from the same set, all designed to throw off McCown's timing.
"We've got a diverse package. We'll try not to be in the same thing over and
over," Herring said. "We'll try to mix it up. It's all based off the same
look, so hopefully we've got an advantage. We played it against South
Carolina and it really confused them quite a bit.
"It's always been there. We've just never played a team that's pure passing
all the time."
And what about the run?
"If they have any running game at all, how well we adjust back to it will be
interesting," Herring said. "We hope they don't pop a big run on us,
especially early. But you have to defend the pass against them because that's
what they do.
"They've been throwing the ball for decades and they've always been damn good