Steele, Tigers Making Adjustments for Blue Raiders' Spread Offense

by - Correspondent -
Chris Chancellor said his job at cornerback is made easier by the defensive front four. (Photos: fotoman)

First year Clemson Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele is not expecting his front four to collect four, five, or six quarterback sacks against Middle Tennessee Saturday night in Death Valley.

He is expecting the defensive unit to disrupt what the Blue Raiders want to do with their spread offense by using his unit’s speed and aggressiveness to attack the offensive.

Head Coach Dabo Swinney agrees.

And he expects his football team to play well on both sides of the ball against a “very capable” Middle Tennessee team in his first Clemson opener.

“They’re a team that has played with some very good programs,” Swinney said in a Tuesday press conference in Clemson.

As for his Tigers, Swinney said he likes what he’s seen as the team prepared for Middle Tennessee.

“They’re a very focused bunch,” he said.

Facing a team in Middle Tennessee that knocked off Maryland last season and that has played in tight ballgames against Louisville and Kentucky is going to be a challenge, Swinney said.

“They’re very good on both sides of the ball,” he said. They have seven starters returning on both sides of the ball.”

Middle Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin, is considered a spread offense specialist, so the offense should feature four and five wide outs on most plays. The Blue Raiders will also attempt to run the ball out of the spread, with a big back and an athletic quarterback.

Swinney said it’s critical for the defense stop the running game.

“Defensively for us it has to be to stop the run,” he said. “They will spread you out to run the ball. There quarterback has played running back for them. He is a guy we have to contain defensively. We can’t let the quarterback do what he wants to do.”

The Tiger’s defense has worked on handling the spread offense, the coaches said.

“When a team spreads you out it’s critical that you tackle … not to give up a lot of YAC (yards after catch),” Swinney said.

Middle Tennessee gave up only 15 sacks in 12 games last season, which is less than 1 ½ sacks a game, Steele said. The quarterback has a quick release and that is going to affect the Clemson pass rush, he said.

The Middle Tennessee offensive line plays as if they’re protecting on a punt, Steele said, “they back up and get in your way.”

He said he is expecting the Tiger defense to “rush as if we are (getting to the quarterback) and cover as if no rush is getting there.

“You’ve got to affect him (the quarterback), but it’s hard to get him on the ground,” Steele said. “They’re taking the snap at about 6 ½ yards, drifting to 10 or 11, sometimes 12 yards deep, getting it out of his hands. There’s a little more time there then you think, but there’s so much distance. There’s an 11 yard sprint there for those front four.”

To counter the spread offense, Steele will turn to two of the best defensive ends in the nation - sophomore DeQuan Bowers and senior Ricky Sapp, who anchor a strong defensive line.

Bowers said Tuesday he is better prepared for the start of the season than last year’s opener.

In Coach Steele’s defensive system, Bowers thinks he will collect more than the one sack he tallied in his freshman campaign.

The defense schemes should allow for a lot of mismatches and “create a lot of havoc,” Bowers said. “I should have done better last year with the sack totals. This year will be different.”

Steele expects to see a lot of different looks from the Middle Tennessee offense, anything from a wishbone set to zone read to orbit options.

“We have to look at all of it,” he said. “You just kind of have to draw in the dirt and work on it in the game.”

Steele will also look to two veteran cornerbacks – seniors Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler - to attack Middle Tennessee’s spread offense.

Chancellor said Tuesday he is excited about playing in Coach Steele’s “more aggressive” defense system and expects it to pay-off with more turnovers this season compared to last year.

Chancellor said his job at cornerback is made easier by the defensive front four. “Those guys up front do a tremendous job,” he said.
As for Saturday’s opener, Chancellor said “Can’t wait. Can’t wait. It’s time to get out there and show everybody that Clemson football is for real.”

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