Steele says defense hurt by lack of experience

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin SteeleKevin Steele
Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
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doesn’t let his guard down very often, but a thoughtful Steele sat around a table in the WestZone Tuesday afternoon and reflected on this season as one that has been his biggest challenge in a long time.

Tiger head coach Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney
Head Coach
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– during his Tuesday press conference - touched on the fact that the defense has allowed 22 plays of 30 yards or more through just nine games this season. That total is two more than they gave up in 13 games last season.

Swinney said that the main culprit – at least in his eyes – has been a lack of experienced depth at key positions on the defense.

"There's a big drop-off for us right now," Swinney said. "That's the biggest difference in our football team. Right now we're very talented, but we just don't have quite the experienced depth that we want or that we're going to have. There's a risk-reward that you're always dealing with and you wish you could just wholesale substitute the whole time. We've had some guys play more snaps than our starters have played in a while."

Steele said he knew that he lacked experience in those spots going into the season, but sometimes it takes seeing the younger players playing in games to bring the point him.

“I took a look at the depth chart before the season started, and I thought we would have a lot of younger guys,” Steele said. “But, I really didn’t think [he said, pointing to his head] about it. And then you get out there, and you are having to plug in guys who are freshmen. You can't expect to replace people like Gilly [Marcus GilchristMarcus Gilchrist
Defensive Back
#12 5-11, 190
High Point, NC

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] and Byron [Maxwell] and DeAndre [McDaniel] with freshmen and not expect a drop off. It just isn’t going to happen.”

As a result, Steele said his defense went back to basics during the bye week last week in preparing for Wake Forest.

“It was very productive,” he said. “Last week, they were very focused and energized, very aware of the things we had to improve, defensively. They bought into that," he said. "I feel like we made progress in that area, just the little things."

Steele said the team came back from a three-day weekend ready to work, and compared it to bowl practice.

"They came back to work," he said. "The retention of what we put in for Wake Forest last week was good, very focused. I thought the leadership was good. We're just repeating the scenario again. It's kind of like bowl practice. You go through a week, practice it, tweak it, practice it another week, tweak it, practice it another week. If you're playing in one of those good ones, you tweak it for about six weeks."

The Demon Deacons are more of a passing team [32nd nationally at 265.78 yards per game] than a rushing team [108th in rushing with 104.67 yards per game], but Steele said the Deacons were effective when they do run the ball.

"They run the ball effectively,” he said. “Although, statistically, when you look at it, they're down at the bottom, but they run it effectively. What they do really good, they do a good job of getting guys in space, getting them the ball - a lot of uncontested throws where they're catching and running without contact on the catch."

Steele said the Tigers will have to pay special attention to receiver Chris Givens, who leads the ACC in receiving yards with 109.4 yards per game and that the Deacons find different ways to get him the ball.

"He's their Sammy WatkinsSammy Watkins
Fr. Wide Receiver
#2 6-1, 200
Fort Myers, FL

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, if you will,” Steele said. “He's a big-play threat. “They run a lot of screens, a lot of shallow crosses, some concepts of mesh route where it's double shallow cross and some singular where they clear out.”

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