Steele says strong play of defense starts up front

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – The Clemson defense is climbing the rankings, and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is quick to tell anyone where the success begins – on the defensive line.

The numbers for the unit are quite impressive:

*The defense has allowed just one touchdown in each of its last five games. Clemson and West Virginia are the only schools in the nation that have done that. This is the longest streak by Clemson since 1989 when the Tigers did not allow more than one touchdown in each of the first five games. The longest streak in Clemson history allowing one touchdown or less is seven straight games, set by the 1981 national championship team.

*The unit has allowed just 19 touchdowns this year, tied for sixth best in the nation. West Virginia has allowed the fewest with 11 and Alabama is second with 13.

*Clemson has allowed opponents to convert on third down just 34.7 percent of the time (25-72) and opponents have scored just four touchdowns in 14 red zone possessions over the past five games. Opponents scored touchdowns 12 of 17 opportunities in the first five games of the year.

*Clemson allowed 36 runs of 10 yards or more in the first five games and just 24 in the last four. And that includes 10 by run-oriented Georgia Tech.

Steele made it a point during his weekly meeting with the media on Tuesday to praise the work of defensive line coaches Chris Rumph [who coaches the defensive ends] and Dan Brooks [defensive tackles].

He said that the improvement shown from the front four has stemmed from the teaching of Brooks and Rumph and their emphasis on technique. He said the group is far and away better, technically, than they were two years ago.

He also went on to say that while Brooks doesn’t make it a secret that he doesn’t want to be a coordinator or a head coach, even though he would make a good one, he thinks that Rumph has all the qualities to make a good defensive coordinator. He said that Rumph works as hard as anyone on the staff, and will be the head man for a defense one day.

In reviewing the Florida St. game tape, Steele said that two things stood out to him regarding the play of his defensive front.

On one of FSU’s trips into the Clemson red zone, the end zone camera showed Florida St. lined up with five offensive lineman, two backs and a quarterback. The only four Clemson players in the shot were the down linemen – no defensive backs or linebackers were in the shot. The Seminoles ran quarterback E.J. Manuel behind what amounted to six blockers, and he was stopped for a one-yard gain.

The second comment he made regarded the linebackers, and how the play of the line has helped give an injury-plagued unit time to grow this season. Steele said that after one defensive series, middle linebacker Corico Hawkins came over to the sideline with a big grin on his face, and said, “Coach, I’m like a little kid running around in the yard out there. Nobody’s touching me.”

Steele said he applauded the effort of his defense against the Seminoles, and took the blame for Florida St.’s lone touchdown drive.

“I thought our guys played extremely hard,” he said. “They’ve done that consistently now. It's very noticeable on tape when you grade it, the effort we're getting from them. We're making very few mistakes. We had a couple the other night. We've been effective against the run and we've created pressure on passers obviously with a four-man rush, which has helped us do a lot of different things. We've done a good job of keeping people out of the end zone.

“Having said that, we did allow one the other night and they got 61 of their 97 rushing yards on one drive. They ran the option eight times in the game, five times in that drive. It averaged 5.3 yards a carry, which is unacceptable, but very correctable. One was on me. Other than that , they're doing what we ask. “

This week, the Tigers travel to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest and an offense that is ranked 104th in the nation. The Demon Deacons are ranked 49th in rushing, but 111th in passing offense and 91st in scoring offense at 22.90 points per game.

Steele said that the Deacons have shown enough flashes, however, to be considered dangerous.

"As far as this week, it's a typical Wake Forest team,” he said. “Extremely well-coached. Not always the biggest players or most heavily recruited, but they play hard and have a very good scheme. You watch the tape and you see that they have 240-plus rushing yards against Virginia Tech and that right there in itself is enough to get your attention. They're very well-coached. It's a magic puzzle because they came out against Maryland and were in four wide receivers the whole game.

“They came out against NCSU and they were in 29 snaps of two tight ends and one wide receiver. Then they come out against us last year and they were two backs and one TE basically 40-something times. It's where do you throw at the dart board? There's a lot to prepare for. But at the end of the day it still comes down to alignment, assignment, technique, eyes and effort. We've been getting that. We have to keep ratcheting it up. We had a good practice yesterday."

Steele ended by saying he wouldn’t allow the players to lose focus, despite the recent success of the defense.

"We still haven't mastered anything,” he said. “They scored a touchdown last week in the fourth quarter. We have plenty to work on. Plenty. We still haven't mastered our trade. It means doing our job. We can't sit here and tell you we didn't contribute to that touchdown. Because we did some things, me included, that contributed to it."

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