First year defensive coordinator Vic Koenning understands the challenge that lies before him. His defense opens up against one of the most dangerous backfields in the country. The number one question that faces Koenning is how he will stop Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal. Koenning says he hasn’t seen anyone who has contained McNeal.
“I don’t know that anyone has contained Reggie too much. Tennessee had good success with him in the bowl game. He got a little bit down on himself and had some negative plays early. We have got to contain him somehow, and I don’t think anybody have cause they would be lying to you. When have all their games and nobody has. We are coaching our guys, when he starts to scramble, you just can’t fixate on him, you have to find a receiver. We have done scramble drills nearly everyday. We have done about all we can do with that,” said Koenning.
For the casual fan, the easy answer is to say you put a spy on McNeal. McNeal’s speed and his backfield partner Courtney Lewis makes it very difficult to put a spy on him.
“If you take a guy out run support or pass coverage or pass rush, you have to say what are the costs for the reward. You have to make sure you have someone, who can run with him. It does you no good to spy somebody, if you don’t have a guy who can run with him. If we corral him and slow him down, we will be in the vast minority of people we have seen on film. From what I have been told, he has worked really hard to improve his passing efficiency over last year. He has a chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t want to be thought of as the second best quarterback in the state of Texas. Anybody that is as competitive and worked as hard as that guy, I have respect for him. I am expecting the best quarterback in the state of Texas Saturday night.”
With all of the attention on the backfield, Koenning had high praises for the Aggies’ wide receivers.
“They are going to be very efficient at wide receiver. They have some wide receivers, who there number asset is running after they get the ball in their hands. They have been described to me by some pro scouts as running backs playing wide receiver. They are strong, stocky guys, who when they get the ball become efficient runners. Offensively, you look at their point production last year, and it was pretty impressive.”
With a wealth of youth and inexperience on defense, Clemson will find where it falls on the measuring stick Saturday night. As the Aggies present the most versatile offense, the Tigers will see all season.
“It is going to be a great challenge for us. A great opportunity for us to see where we are at and where we need to go. This is a work in progress. We are not as good right now on defense, as we are going to be, if we stay healthy, the middle of the year, the end of the year, and years to come. We are going to continue to get better and better.”
If you look at the two-deep, there is anywhere from eight or nine freshmen listed (redshirt and true). Koenning says inexperience is not an excuse to keep talent off the field.
“We understand there has been a lot of positive recruiting done before I got here. The last couple of years there is some fine players and with the improvements in facilities, I don’t see there is any reason to believe of the next year or two there won’t be similar things. So what do you do with that talent? It is hard to sit on the bench, for example Antonio Clay. We are gonna play them. They will not be perfect, and I have to make sure I don’t hold to high of expectations for them. Then, they have understand and I have to understand the expectations at Clemson.”
Koenning will run the Clemson defense from the sidelines this year.
“My first year at Troy, I thought I needed to be able to see what was going on, and we were 0-2. When the head coach’s wife was telling me, you need to be down on the field we need your enthusiasm down on the field, so I said I would try it, and we strung about four wins together. There would be a lot of pluses going to the press box, but I think I can go get in someone’s tail a little bit and look in their eye and see if somebody has that far away look. You can’t do that in the press box, not that we don’t have some guys who couldn’t do it. It is going to be nice relying on those guys, and say its your turn. Ron West and Andrew Ford will be up in the box. We will have a myriad of signals on the field, some dummies and some real. You are going to have to work hard to steal our signals.”