CLEMSON — Kevin Steele was a bit testy Tuesday, and can you blame a guy?
In his first two seasons as Clemson’s defensive coordinator, Steele had established the Tigers as a top-25 defense, but it doesn’t look like that’ll happen this year. Entering Saturday’s visit to N.C. State, Clemson is 59th nationally in total defense, 59th in scoring defense and 90th in rush defense.
Steele discussed the state of his defense and personnel with reporters Tuesday, as follows:
What changed in the fourth quarter against Wake Forest (holding the Demon Deacons scoreless): “The game has an ebb and flow and everyone remembers the game differently. I wouldn’t say all the first, second, third quarters were awful. We had two plays in the third quarter that were pretty ugly. Outside of that there were seven points on the board in three quarters. There’s a lot of plays between there. The fourth quarter really went our way. You look at the grade sheet and you see why. The game plan was pretty simple, they applied it very well and executed it in a good way in the fourth quarter.”
How do you feel like the defense bounced back after the Georgia Tech game (where it allowed 383 yards rushing): “You’re comparing apples and watermelons. There’s no carryover there. There’s no carryover at all. You’re talking about a scheme that gets executed for one week in a game and then gets put on a shelf. You tweak it, you interject things, but you only get to play it one time a year, where the scheme that you saw last week, that’s what you do. It’s not comparable. It’s not relative.”
Is the N.C. State scheme different without Russell Wilson and with Mike Glennon: “With (Russell) Wilson there was a lot more threat of the run, the pulldown, the scramble. A lot of yards, because he didn’t’ see what he liked. The quarterback draws, quarterback runs Outside of that the offense is the same.
Are you still searching for the right combination at safety: “ Always searching. Always searching. A coach is never satisfied. We’re mixing it up and getting it. We’re better when we have the availability to move guys around. When Marcus (Gilchrist) was here, Marcus played safety, corner, nickel and dime. So the more you can do that … you’re one injury away from having to move people around. That sounds like, why would you want to do that? It’s about matchups. If you don’t have the ability to move one guy around, one guy’s always here, one guy’s always here. And they don’t put the wide receiver there, he’s on the other side, you can get your hands full pretty quick.”
Are you worried about a lack of urgency with a spot in the title game wrapped up: “Irrelevant. Has nothing to do with anything. We won’t allow it. That’s not the way we do business. You know it. You’ve been around. You’ve heard it enough times. We’ve got practice today. Let’s get through today and work on tomorrow. We don’t even have the practice scripts done for tomorrow. There’s no guarantee of anything.”
Do you feel l like you have something left to prove to anyone, especially defensively: “We don’t play to prove. Who are we going to prove to? We’re a defensive unit. We go to work, we know what we have to do better, we know what we do well, and we’re not into proving. We’re into, at the end of the game, do we have more points than the other team. That’s happened nine times in 10 tries this year. You’re not careful, you’ll give people a million dollars in a sack they’ll complain about the sack.”
Third down conversions concerning to you (after allowing 15 of 31 the last two games): “Go back and look. We’re still pretty good on third down. We’re 38 percent. Last year we were 36 percent. The year before I think we were 35 percent. You threw in a game (Georgia Tech) that is not the same in the last couple of games. It’s a very simple answer – a whole lot of third and ones, twos, threes. If you look at our third and six-plus, it’s very good. If you look at anybody’s third ones, twos, threes, it’s hard to do.
The answer is win second down in a big way so you don’t’ get third and ones, twos, threes. Miss third and one, you make the call. There’s not much you can call. A quarterback sneak or a power. If it’s third and eight or second and 10, or the last play, third and 10, you’ve got a whole lot of things you can call.”
Are you happy with the way you responded when you got down 28-14: “Do you really want me to answer that? I was disappointed. We just laid down….. ask it again so I can refocus.
… You’re assuming that they were mentally fragile and had lost themselves. At no point in time on the sideline could you see in their face frustration, panic.. everything was very calm, and there was a feeling of, we’ve given up a touchdown off a punt return, two turnovers, and we’ll get this thing done.
“Some way we’ll get it done. That was the mindset. In terms of them responding to it, people from afar would say, you’ve got to be pleased with how they responded. Not really, because I saw how they were responding.”
Is that quality of resilience rare in teams: “ In 9-1 teams, it’s not very rare. In 3-8 teams it’s real rare. It’s the whole body of work. That’s what you’re seeing take place. Every team is striving for perfection. Every defense wants a shutout. Our offense wants to go out and score on every possession. And we’re not happy when that doesn’t happen, so we dissect every possession, we cut it up. And if you’re not careful, you’ll cross the fine line as a teacher of being critical and teaching.
“And there’s an extreme difference. You’re striving for perfection. A lot of times when you sit in the stands, it’s easy to be critical. But you don’t have to deal with the team, you don’t’ have to deal with them every day. Their mindset, what they’re doing. It’s clear we’re going to get after you and coach you hard, but it’s in a teaching, corrective manner for us getting better. Not a critical, you’re no good manner.”
On linebackers Stephone Anthony and Tig Willard playing in nickel situations: “Tig played a very solid football game, which he normally does. Stephone is still having some growing pains, he’d be the first to tell you that. But he’s not going to learn standing over by us. That’s a fine line again that you have to walk as a coach. You want to stand him over here, and then have everything go exactly perfect, he’s not going to get any better. Or do you want to put him out there and know, there’s some things we’ve got to correct. And there’s going to be some things that’ll cost us. But don’t let it get out of control. As he grows it’ll get better and better.”
On Corico Hawkins: “He’s played a lot of football. Everyone gets caught up on this first-play thing, or who’s the starter. We’ve always said we need 15, 16 guys who can play at any time in the game. That’s the way we look at it. It takes more people…. You get into, hopefully not, but it happened Saturday, a 12-play drive. That’s very taxing. They ring the bell at the end of a boxing round for a rest. And when you don’t get that bell and you’ve got to fight two or three rounds in a row, it’s good to have other people that are equal to you or similar to you to go in there. Corico is a consummate team guy. That’s what you need to understand.
“It’s about the team. It’s not about, you played 23 plays or 33 plays. I’ve often said it’s amazing, when you’re 9-1 and you play 13 plays as opposed to 40 plays the week before and you come in the locker room, everybody’s happy. You can tell a lot about a person when you’re 3-6 and you play 13 plays as opposed to 40 plays and you’re sitting in the locker room (angry). And you won. “