Tall Order: Tigers' Secondary Has Tough Job Covering Johnson


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ATLANTA - During a conversation earlier in the week, Clemson cornerback Tye Hill told head coach Tommy Bowden how much he was looking forward to today’s match up with Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Bowden told his eager 5’10” cornerback he liked his enthusiasm, but he also offered him a little piece of advice.


“It’s not going to help you grow seven inches,” said Bowden.



It was those seven inches that allowed the 6’4” Johnson to grab 3 touchdowns and 8 catches for 127 yards in the Yellow Jackets’ 28-24 victory in Death Valley last year. 2 of his 3 touchdowns came while Hill was covering. The other was a jump ball over Justin


Miller for the game-winning score.


“He presents problems because you have to give a guy help,” Bowden said. “Tye probably has the same vertical jump, he’s faster. He’s got good agility. But a 40-inch vertical on a 5’10” guy and a 40-inch vertical on a 6-4 guy, ­ the big guy is going to win.”

Which is where Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning comes in. Koenning, like every defensive coach across the country, knows all about Mr. Johnson. The Tigers’ first-year coordinator says his game plan will not necessarily be to stop Johnson, but instead to stop everyone else.

“He is a really, really talented player,” Koenning said. “You try to double him or put extra guys on him or what not, but there are other players on that team and he provides avenues for them. So it is kind of a catch 22 scenario.”

Those other players happen to be running back P.J. Daniels, quarterback Reggie Ball, and wide receiver Damarius Bilbo. Daniels has averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and although Ball has struggled at times this year, he is still a dangerous threat both running and throwing the football.

“First we have to stop the run. Once we do that, we have to contain Reggie Ball,” said Koenning. “If we can’t do those things, then (Johnson) is going to be that more dangerous.”

For Hill, that means he must be in position, and that position is not to allow Johnson to catch the ball over his right shoulder.

“I was looking at him against Auburn and he was catching the ball over his right shoulder. That’s really out of position for me, if I was on him and was trying to get the ball. He tracks the ball well in the air.”

But some might say Johnson does more than just track the ball. Some say, he likes to give a little push too.” He can push and be all over your back. It has been a complete one way street on the film we have seen,” said Koenning.

But Koenning says he is not criticizing the officials or trying to call anyone out. He says it is just a fact of the way the game is played in today’s times. “That’s just the way it is. The nature of the way the game is done.” “It is harder on the defensive team. On the film we have seen, there is a lot of pushing and shoving and he is a big guy. If you front him, you don’t have much of a chance because he is going to put his hands in your back, push in and get away. He does it and gets away with it in every game we have seen. I’m not being critical. They have just gotten away with it.”

Bowden says he heard similar criticisms when Rod Gardner was catching passes for him. Bowden and Koenning both acknowledged they couldn’t fault Johnson because he is gifted athlete who is using his God-given talents to find the football.


“We just have to play it straight,” said Koenning. “He is a very physical receiver and he is going to find a way to get open. He can have two guys on
him, and he will sling one of them off of him and find the ball. He catches the ball. You don’t feel good about it, but he is going to find ways to get to the football, by hook or by crook.

All of which has Hill eager to play him.

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