By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele has had to make several adjustments so far this season with how his defense is lined up, based on the fact that they’ve played three very different offenses so far in Troy, Wofford, and Auburn. In Clemson’s critical win against Auburn, breaking the Tigers 17 game winning streak, Steele’s defense came alive only allowing Auburn a field goal in the second half, however Steele still doesn’t believe his defense is a good one at this point in the season.
“I don’t feel good about the big plays that our defense has given up so far this season,” Steele said. “When you sit there and see the offenses make chunk plays against us that comes down to eyes, pursuit angles and tackling, and we have a problem we’re not a very good defense. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have 55 really good plays during a game, but good defenses don’t play 55 and then for 7 plays don’t play with their eyes, tackle well or take good pursuit angles. You can’t sugar coat it, it is what it is.”
Steele realizes that he has played several defensive rookies so far this season and that they are bound to make a few rookie mistakes and give up a big play. However, some of his defensive veterans have also made critical mistakes, giving up big plays and to Steele that is intolerable.
“If it’s a rookie making these big mistakes, occasionally that is going to happen at this level and it has,” Steele said. “When you start having these mistakes with older players, you’ve really got to start knuckling down, and part of that is a result possibly of the offenses stretching the field. You’re not tackling them in a phone book now; you’re tackling them running sideways with eight guys in front of them. It’s a little more complicated than it used to be.”
With Florida State’s traditional pro-style offense coming to town Saturday, Clemson’s defense is up for another challenge, going up against another completely different offense that they’ll have to pick apart.
“What we’ve had to do so far as a defense is like writing an English paper before learning your ABC’s,” Steele said. “It’s a hard way to learn for our freshmen, not being able to play our base defense until the fourth week of the season.”
Steele reassured the media members present on Tuesday that he knows what the issues are that his defense continues to have, and knows the biggest difference is that his defense has played some really great football in their first three games, but are just giving up a few really big gains.
“Mostly, we’ve been playing some very strong football but are just giving up 20 or 25 snaps of chunk plays,” Steele said. “Some of it you can put your finger on, but the rest of it, we just have to play better with our eyes, coach better, tackle better, and until we get that corrected we’re going to be very average.”
So far this season, Steele has had to make some adjustments to his defense at halftime and they have come out stronger and played dominantly in the second half. The team is clearly bought into what Steele has told them each game at halftime, what is it that Steele tells his players to make them come out looking like a different group?
“Really what happens, it’s not an ingenious halftime adjustment, when you’re playing the non-traditional offenses they change a lot,” Steele said. “You’re not seeing the same things, as you would in watching films. You can’t draw it all up, and after they’ve shown us what we’ve done, we’re able to get them over on the sideline and calm them down like we did Saturday. Once they get a grasp of what people are doing to attack up they’ve executed very well.”
With quarterback EJ Manuel listed as questionable for Saturday’s game in Death Valley, Steele told reporters that his defense has been preparing for both Manuel and FSU’s second string quarterback as well.
“It definitely makes a difference if you’re preparing for Manuel or Trickett,” Steele said. “So we’re preparing as if both quarterbacks are going to see playing time. Manuel gives Florida State some of those Cam Newton type runs, where Trickett doesn’t run like that. But we’re going to prepare for them both and be ready for either one of them.”