Steele: Florida State offense will be a steep challenge

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Reports are circulating that Florida State starting quarterback Christian Ponder may not play in this Saturday’s game against Clemson, but Clemson defensive coordinator said that won't change how his Tigers prepare for the Seminoles.

Ponder hurt his throwing elbow against Boston College a few weeks ago, damaging the bursa sac in the elbow area. He re-injured it last Saturday against North Carolina, and had to have the elbow drained earlier this week, prompting speculation that backup E.J. Manuel could get the start.

Steele isn’t buying it.

“First of all, he [Ponder] played pretty well with that the other day and he hurt it in the game,” Steele said on Tuesday. “He’s had care and treatment now and he didn’t have that after the first quarter. We fully expect to see him. The backup is a talented quarterback and was the Gator Bowl MVP last year. When you break down the Gator Bowl game, probably 80 to 85 percent of that was their normal offense.”

Steele said that the Seminoles are one of the more balanced teams that Clemson will face this season. The Seminoles are ranked 24th nationally in rushing offense at 196 yards per game, and are averaging 410 yards per game of total offense. They also average nearly 34 points per contest.

“Their run game is very effective,” he said. “They average 5.4 yards a carry and nearly 200 yards a game. That’s impressive. I know this - they do a very good job of calling their plays, a very good offensive line, a good group of receivers and a very talented quarterback. The running backs, obviously, they’re good players. This is a steep challenge for us, now.

“They are a steep challenge. This team has a lot of offense. A lot of offense. They have something new every week. They’re very efficient and have big-play potential. They have as many long runs and long passes as anybody. They’re the most effective on third down in this conference. That’s a big, big key.”

Clemson held N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson in check last weekend, and Steele said that success started up front.

“What really came out in the tape was up front we were very effective and Chris Rumph and Dan Brooks did a great job of not only getting guys cranked up and doing their jobs but also with our goal, which was to collapse the pocket and make him throw out of a hole. I thought that was very effective. I think there were four sacks and 21 or 22 quarterback pressures. We did play the run game and it was 1.5 or 1.7 [per rush], so we were effective there.

“We’re starting to show some maturity in the red zone. We blocked a field goal and then intercepted one in the end zone. That was huge in terms of being relentless and being first-responders and not worrying about how things happened. We’re making some progress in buying into the process and not being so results-oriented. That has been positive in that regard. We had bad plays in every game, but five weeks in being very effective in keeping people out of the end zone.”

Defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins was disruptive against the Wolfpack, and Steele said it has been good to see Jenkins making things happen on the inside of the line.

“Jarvis is a very smart guy, a relentless guy,” Steele said. “He was one of the very first guys who bought into the process. He practices very hard every day. Dan Brooks has done a great job with him. Jarvis needed to use his hands better. He’s got an extremely quick first step, for a big man. He’s using his hands well and understands the game. With he and Brandon [Thompson] inside there, they have started to affect what happens inside.”

The play of the defensive line has taken some of the pressure off of the linebackers, and Steele said that at the beginning of the season, he would diagram a play on the sidelines and get blank looks. Now when he diagrams a play, he has three or four hands on the board showing him what happened on certain plays.

“Brandon [Maye] gets hurt and Tig [Willard] is in, then Tig is out and Brandon is in. They sort of overlap with injuries,” Steele said. “Then we lose Daniel Andrews who was sort of a jack of all trades. The only constant we’ve had is Quandon [Christian] and Corico [Hawkins] in the middle. In a 4-3 defense, having five or so backers available, that’s a stretch. Our mental errors have gone way, way down. We’re playing smarter. Knock on wood. It’s going better right now.

“It’s just the process of it. We’ve had some young guys. And, we’ve got all those computers back there and all those breakdowns, but you go into some games and it’s like, ‘Where did that come from?’ Probably the thing we’ve done better over the course of the last four or five weeks is that our sideline classroom work has been better. They understand what’s happening to them on the sideline better.”

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