Steele prepares defense for Tech's option attack

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – The Clemson defense has faced the spread option and five wide receivers so far this season, and even got to play against normal I-formation teams the last two weeks.

This Saturday, however, is a whole different ballgame according to defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

Paul Johnson brings his Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and their vaunted option attack to Death Valley on Saturday, and Steele said even though his unit has made progress the past couple of weeks, the Jackets obviously present a special challenge.

“The biggest thing right now is that we played very efficient in a lot of ways last week and made a lot of progress in some areas in our package,” Steele said to the media on Tuesday. “Now we get to put that on the shelf and lock it up and bring it back out on Sunday, after dealing in a whole other world, and I’m speaking of Georgia Tech. “

The Tigers played the Jackets twice last season with mixed results. In the first meeting, Clemson forced seven three-and-outs, a big number considering there were only seven other three-and-outs imposed on their offense the remainder of the season.

In the ACC Championship Game, however, the Yellow Jackets never punted on their way to the win.

Steele said everything looks the same from Johnson’s offense, with a few more wrinkles.

"Offensively they look the same,” he said. “Obviously he's calling some different things and has new wrinkles. Their quarterback [Josh Nesbitt] is the one who drives the show and he's certainly doing that very well. He's got six touchdowns and two interceptions. He brought them back in a two-minute drive to beat Wake Forest and threw it efficiently. The option game is what it is - it comes at you in a lot of different directions. We'll have to play very well with our eyes and play focused.”

Freshman tight end Vic Beasley is playing the part of Nesbitt in practice this week, and Steele said that Beasley provides a good “look.”

"He's a big guy who can run. He's fast enough to do it,” Steele said of Beasley. “Yesterday, I thought we got a really good look. A really good look. A lot of it comes from who's running that. We've got guys who run scout team for us who are good players. We get a pretty good picture every week."

Linebacker Corico Hawkins said that it will be important for Tiger defenders to properly read the option and fall for fakes, using patience just as much as aggressiveness, but Steele said there is a fine line between patience and being too slow on a play.

“We were very good with our eyes in the first game and very aggressive,” he said. “We were patiently attacking. In the second game, for whatever reason, we got a little bit back on our heels. But what happened was not big plays. We had the one hitch-and-go, but other than that, it was three and a half to four yards to death. You can't just let them move the chains."

He said another difficulty is the fact that Tech typically goes for it on fourth down if the yardage is short enough.

“You can't go to your normal short-yardage defense, so it is difficult. It's complicated in that regard, but we've studied it every way you can,” Steele said. “We've studied all the Navy film we can get, all the way to 2005. We've studied every game since he's been at Georgia Tech. The fact of the matter is that there aren't but a couple of base schemes that people play them with. When you watch the Iowa tape, the Miami tape, the UNC tape, the NCSU tape, our two tapes, you see almost the same thing.

“Then you get into the odd-front stuff and you start seeing Wake Forest playing them in an odd-front. You have to look for your change-ups. It's hard to come up with a scheme in their base stuff where you can throw a fastball or a knuckleball or a slider."

One positive is the fact that the defenders retained most of what they learned about Tech last season, during the spring and during fall camp.

"I will say this....I had a concern of was there going to be some retention,” Steele said. “I was really amazed with the way they came into the meeting and the retention they had of it. When we went out to practice, they had a lot of retention. When we went over the three-technique plays as opposed to the shade plays, there was a lot of retention of what they did."

Steele was asked how much time he spent on the option in the off-season, and he said too many hours to count.

"I can't count the hours,” he said. “Countless, countless, countless hours. But if you're not careful, you'll get paralysis from analysis. We've looked at it every way you can look at it."

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