Tigers Need to Get Defensive


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Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger


CLEMSON -- Vic Koenning sat in the McFadden Building Auditorium earlier this week and pointed to a picture of the 1990 Clemson defense which led the nation in total yards that year.

"You see that picture," the Clemson defensive coordinator said. "We are not going to be satisfied here until we can get one of those put up there." Koenning said his defense is far from being the nations' best unit after watching the Texas A&M film. In that game, he said his defense got it right just five times during the Aggies' 51 plays.

"I got tired writing them all down," Koenning said of the Tigers mistakes.

After being brought in to replace John Lovett as defensive coordinator, Koenning said he would not have been surprised had Tommy Bowden wanted to fire him after the first game. When Bowden asked Koenning to act like him in order to answer a question, Koenning replied, "Well, first of all, if I'm you, don't fire me after one game." Koenning said a lot of the blame for the Texas A&M game has to go to him because he says he obviously didn't have the defense ready.

"We just didn't execute some of the stuff as well as what we would have liked," he said. "Our players saw on tape if we just would have done the basic
fundamentals. They would not have had anything." But A&M finished with 358 total yards against the Tigers, including 248 on the ground. Quarterback Reggie McNeal burned the Tiger defense all night on the option as he carried the ball for 100 yards, including a 49-yard jaunt early in the fourth quarter.

That long run came as result of having just 10 defensive players on the field. McNeal noticed there wasn't a weak side linebacker on the play. He called for a quick snap and ran the option to the right for the 49-yard gain. Two plays later, he caught the defense sleeping again as he tossed a 31-yard scoring pass for the go-ahead score.

The Aggies averaged over 7 yards per play, one of the highest totals under a Tommy Bowden led Clemson team. The two highest came from Bowden's father at Florida State in 2000 and 2001.

Koenning described Clemson's effort last weekend as clumsy at best. Too many missed assignments and too many missed tackles as well as missed opportunities to give the football back to the offense.

"We can play a whole lot better, and we will play a whole lot better," Koenning said.

The Tigers opportunity to improve begins this afternoon against one of the better offensive minds in all of college football in Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen. His offenses are known for having a great deal of success both running and passing the football. Against Navy in a 23-20 win, the Terps had a 100-yard rusher in Mario Merrills, while quarterback Sam Hollenbach threw for 217 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Drew Weatherly for the game-winner.

"You know, he is known for being a great offensive coach so we will have our work cut out for us I'm sure, but we can't worry about him," said Koenning.

"Sure, he is good, but we have to take care of ourselves and that's what I want us to do.

"I want us to get better."

There were a few bright spots for the Clemson defense. The Tigers did confuse A&M with their coverages and they did make a defensive stand when the offense needed the ball back. But defensive end Charles Bennett said for the most part, the defense did not have a good night.

"I'm glad the offense bailed us out," said the senior end. "We made a stop when we had to, but we didn't play that good. We have to do a better job." Maryland's offense has thrived under Friedgen. Since his arrival in 2001, the Terps have set school records for points in 2001 (390) and 2002 (451).

From 1998-2000, he orchestrated a Georgia Tech offense that averaged 36.7 points and 444 yards a game, while the team collected a 27-8 record.

But Clemson might have figured out Friedgen last year when the Tiger defense held Maryland to a season low 194 yards, including just 83 rushing.

"I think the last two years we've done a good job holding them down," said cornerback Tye Hill. "But they're always good under (Friedgen) so we know we will see a lot of different stuff.

"All I can tell you, is we can't play like we did against Texas A&M or he is going to make us pay."


Will Vandervort is the Sports Editor for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger.

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