CLEMSON, SC- I think it’s safe to say after watching the Clemson Tigers in their first two appearances of the season that missed tackles have been an issue for certain players on our defense. Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele agrees however he knows that this is a problem that can be corrected quickly and reassured members of the media on Tuesday that it will be corrected when the reigning National Champions, the Auburn Tigers enter Death Valley this Saturday.
“When you give up 145 yards on 16 missed tackles, something’s going to have to change,” Steele said. “We’re going to go to work, and I’m old enough to know, and old school enough to know okay, we do it a certain way and it doesn’t work, I know the old way works.”
With Auburn coming into town Saturday, there will be one key member of their offense missing, Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton who is now a rookie NFL quarterback with the Carolina Panthers. How different will their offense be without their lethal weapon?
“Obviously, you’re talking about the Heisman Trophy winner, probably the best player in College football last year,” Steele said. “You can’t replace a guy like that, but their offense doesn’t look any different. They’ve got players, good players, and they’re well coached in that regard, they’re just doing it a different way.”
Now that Clemson runs a spread offense somewhat similar to the offense ran by Auburn and Gus Malzhan, Steele believes that Clemson’s defense does has somewhat of an advantage because they are playing against this up tempo offense every day in practice.
“Obviously we practice against it every day and we get familiar with certain aspects of it,” Steele said. “But I’m not going to be in his (Malzahn’s) headset, I’m not going to have his call sheet and obviously he knows that so I’m sure we’ll get some new wrinkles.”
Seeing that Clemson’s new offensive coordinator Chad Morris learned the spread offense ran at Clemson from Malzhan, has Steele sat down with Morris and gotten any insight from him on facing an offense like Auburns?
“Yeah we see it every day and talk about why we do what we do to them so he knows,” Steele said. “I know what gives him problems because he asks me why I did something and will tell me the problem he has running against it.”
With several true freshmen stepping into backup roles for Steele on defense, has he noticed them progress and pick up the defense faster or is there still a lot of improving left to do until they’ve reached the level that the experienced defensive players are at?
“Well I think it’s a little bit odd, when we break down everything over the last two days, when we have a certain 11 out there, a certain 10 last week minus one, we’ve been pretty effective both on pass rushing and defense against the run, across the board,” Steele said. “Our issue is when we start substituting, and it’s not because they’re not good players, we’ve had situations where guys are just not doing their jobs. But it’s my responsibility, it lands on me, it’s my job to see that they get done what they’re supposed to get done.”
What about the 145 yards that Clemson’s defense gave up because of missed tackles over the past two weeks? Steele may have been the only person who saw it coming.
“I saw it coming but we’ll get it fixed,” Steele said. “If you break it down though it’s not something that’s happening across the board on defense, it’s a select few who are missing tackles. You have to be careful saying that the whole defense is tackling poorly. I can name you five or six starters that have no missed tackles or only one.”
How much tackling even goes on during fall camp and practices during game week?
“We’ll you’d be surprised, people don’t realize this but we go out during spring practice now and it’s 15 days of spring practice, it used to be 20 and before that it was unlimited.” Steele said. “You tackled every day back then, but we go out now during the first three days of spring practice, two of them in shorts and the third day you’re not allowed to tackle. Out of the 15 days of spring practice, you’re tackling three days. I’m not saying that’s why we’re having problems with missed tackles; you really don’t get to do as much tackling as you’d think you’d get to do. There’s not too many teams going out there and lining up all fall camp and tackling Lil Bit (Andre Ellington) and Bellamy every day. Not because we wouldn’t do it, we’d do it in a second, but the offensive coaches wouldn’t agree to that.”
At the end of the day though, Steele doesn’t see the lack of tackling at practice as an excuse for why members of his defense are tackling poorly.
“We used the same methods at practice last year and we didn’t have the tackling problems that we’ve had so far this season,” Steele said. “Something needs to be fixed and I’m going to coach them and get those mistakes corrected. The team may be a little sore after learning how to tackle correctly again but I’m sure that they will respond and improve on the missed tackles when Auburn comes to town.”