Steele at the Orange Bowl

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele meets with the media on Monday afternoon to discuss the Orange Bowl.


Coach, a couple more days left to go before you all play in the Discover Orange Bowl. What's left to do for your team in preparation?
Steele: Well, same as a game week. You kind of go seven days out when you're in this 30?day schedule, and so this is actually, to everybody else, a certain day of the week. To us it's Thursday, so we talk about it being Thursday and we just go through a regular game week this week. It's no different than any other week.

Have you been able to keep the defense's focus like they had in the ACC Championship game and that intensity that they had in that outing?
Steele: We won't know that until Wednesday night. They've practiced that way, but they've been a good practice team all year long. You know, you're asking me to predict results, and when you're dealing with football, in particular college football, that's pretty hard to do. They've prepared well, but they've prepared well every week. They've had good focus, but they've had good focus every week. They've had good energy every week. This has been no different, and hopefully we can get the same results.

I'm wondering how you think the loss of Dustin Garrison will affect the complexion of the game, and then the second part of that question is have you seen film enough of Andrew Buie to get a feel for what he can do?
"You know, we're really big about -- it's about what we do. It's about how we line up and our accountability and responsibility to do our job and not so much about who is over on the other side and what jersey number it is or what player."

Steele: Well, by the way, these guys from South Carolina want to know how they can get a job with the Miami Herald, too, after being in this weather, but that's another story. You know, we're really big about -- it's about what we do. It's about how we line up and our accountability and responsibility to do our job and not so much about who is over on the other side and what jersey number it is or what player. And we try to approach every game like that, every snap like that. But the truth of the matter is, as a coach, you know obviously the guy is a starter for a reason. He's a very, very good player, very productive for them. But we've just gone about the business as they're going to have a guy out there that's very capable just like we will if we put a guy to replace a starter.

Film-wise, obviously there's not as many snaps. The video evidence of the backup is not as many snaps as the starter, but there's enough snaps to see his running style, his catching style, his protection style, those kind of things. There's enough video evidence for that.

West Virginia's offensive line has been pretty inconsistent this season. Without giving away too many company secrets, where do you think you can take advantage there with your front?
Steele: Well, first of all, when you're dealing with college football and the depth of offensive lines, I think every coach and every defensive coordinator would tell you very rarely do you see the same guys start anymore, and if you do, it's usually a team that's very high ranked, very good, had a very productive offensive year. Those guys get injured a lot. You see different five starters week in and week out, so you kind of get used to that as a defensive coach. And then there's always games where protections are a problem, and then the next game it's not for them. So you kind of say, well, is it who they're playing or is it them. They're very capable. They're what I call a typical West Virginia offensive line. I've coached against them before, very capable of doing the job. As far as how to attack those, I mean, we've got enough in our repertoire that if something doesn't work, we can draw from another well. I assure you that.

Just talk about what makes this offense you're facing so special, their strengths, and what are you going to key on come Bowl night?
Steele: You know, the best way to describe it for the person who doesn't have to defend it is it's in some ways like playing in Canada. There's 12 men, two guys in motion. That's not the way we play American football, but it almost looks like that sometimes because it goes very fast. They're spread out. They lead two open edges all the time. There's football coaches that I've coached with that say you can't play a football and lead two open edges all the time and throw the football, but they do and they do it very effectively. I think the big thing is when you've got a quarterback that gets the ball out of his hand, is accurate with his throws and the route runners are quick, catch the ball on the run and then get yardage after the catch, it can be very effective. It's been very effective for Mumme, Leach, those guys, and it's a tough offense to defend. Now, just like, hopefully for us, it's harder to defend in a week than it is in 30 days, I'll tell you that.

Given that they do things so quickly and Smith won't hold the ball for very long, it kind of takes away some of what you guys do well when you're at your best and that's the pressure, getting to the quarterback, forcing him to do things outside his comfort zones. Do you do then something different with the back seven?
Steele: I'm not sure I understand that.

To find a way to keep things in front of you, or do you stick with what you do well?
Steele: Well, you know, we're going to dance with the one that brung us. I mean, we do what we do. We're multiple, and we're going to pressure you and we're going to play split safety and middle of the field coverage zone. That's what we do.

In terms of the speed of it, there's so much no-huddle offense in college football now. In fact, our offense is no-huddle, we practiced against it all camp, we practiced against it in the spring. So we kind of have a system of getting our calls in, getting them in fast, just make sure you get lined up, and then it allows you to do what you've got to do, whatever that is.

The general consensus is that Bowl practices give you time with some of the younger players who you maybe haven't spent time with during the season. Has that been the case for you, getting these younger guys some work, and if so, who are some who have kind of stood out to you?
Steele: Well, yeah, the red shirt guys you're talking about?

Steele: After practice practice?

Steele: There's no four-hour rule in terms of -- there's no 20-hour rule in the week, there's no spring practice, 15 days, three of them in pass, can't tackle here, can't tackle there. You can practice like you used to could.

So we do have an after practice practice with the young guys, and you know the names of those guys. If I sat up here and just started going down the list, we've got young guys that are very capable, some of them that could have played, like Cortez. He got a lot of work at corner, did a great job, and you can see he's going to be a very good player. And just go B.J. Goodson and Walls and right on down the list. And we actually kept some of the younger guys like Peake and Barnes and those guys and let them do that, too, because they've had reps and they've had game reps but not like a starter.

Do you plan on starting Xavier again at safety, and how do you feel like he's done since making the transition over from cornerback?
Steele: Well, I'm not going to tell you who's going to start at safety -- no, just kidding. Really Xavier didn't at the championship game -- didn't start at safety. He has the ability to play there if we need him there. He's kind of the utility guy. He can play nickel or star, he can play money, he can play corner, he can play safety. He's the one guy that can play everything back there. And so he may be in at any of those or maybe just one or two of those.

Can you give an idea or your take on how your cornerbacks and defensive backs have progressed this season in terms of playing the ball in the air and defending the pass?
Steele: We've got guys with good ball skills. We've got one in particular that has some contact issues, and not in terms of contact, contact as in vision. Our DBs, that's one of the thing when we look at a DB, ball skills is very, very important. We do that, but then again, too, we're a match team, play a lot of man, and if you're not a dominant position man, you'd better be playing the man and the ball later. If you get in dominant position then you get your eyes around and play the ball. So they do a good job of that.

There's been a few games this year where West Virginia has struggled to move the ball through the course of the game and then at the very end, the 11th hour, 4th quarter, they really put together a drive that has won the game. Is there any way to prepare for something like that heading into a game?
Steele: Yeah, there's a great way. Have more points than they can catch up with. That's a great way (laughing).

Yeah, we're a big -- we emphasize two-minute a lot. We practice against our offense in two-minute situation, ones against ones every week on Wednesday, and we actually set the clock different times; 1:53, they've got one time?out and 60 yards to go. Then the next time we may go for the twos, put the ball at the 50, they need a field goal, they've got no time?outs, they've got 42 seconds to go. We practice that against our offense, and then we do it twice a week -- I'm sorry, in the Bowl practice we did it twice a week but in the season once, where we actually do the same thing with the scout team.

So we practice two-minute a lot, and we have a system of doing that, quick calls and obviously tackle in?bounds, so yeah, we've got a system in place like that, and we've been a good two-minute team over the three years that we've been there.

Can you talk a little bit more about Geno and what makes him so dangerous and special back there?

Opposing offenses have had trouble keeping Andre Branch out of their backfields.
Steele: Well, he's very athletic. He does a really, really good job, and this goes back having played against this offense at Kentucky and then Oklahoma, Texas Tech, now. I mean, it's not the first time you've seen different quarterbacks.

He does a great job at what we call catch and throw. He's got good field vision because when you're in the gun all the time, people don't realize when you're underneath the center you've got your eyes down the field, so you take the snap and you're seeing what's there. You know there's middle of the field coverage, your eyes are always downfield. But when you're in the gun all the time, at some point in time you've got to watch the ball into your hands. It's kind of hard to catch that ball because you kind of see it go around the clock in terms of where it's at.

He does a great job of getting the ball caught and getting his eyes on his reads and then getting the ball out very quick, and then he's very accurate with his throws. Very accurate with his throws. He has the ability to scramble. I've known him since he was in high school, so I know what he can do with his legs. But he really does, he's more of an NFL style, and then he scrambles to throw. He's going to look to throw it first, and as soon as I say that, then he'll scramble for 80 yards Wednesday night, but he does scramble to throw.

Can you talk a little bit about Andre Branch, how he sets the tone and what's special about him?
Steele: Setting the tone is an understatement with Andre, and you'll get to talk to him here in a minute and you'll understand that. There are certain people that wake up and they're just not in a very good mood. He either talks in his sleep or he wakes up talking, and most of the time it's pretty positive, pretty high energy. He sets the tempo for the defense. His personality is very infectious for the group. He's very high energy, high motor, loves to play the game.

The amazing thing about Andre, there's a lot of people that get ready to play at a high level on Saturday or Sunday, but there's very few that come to practice every day and you can just tell they love -- he either loves being outside or loves being around the guys or he loves football, one of the three. It's got to be something, because when he comes to practice, he hits the field energetic.

And it's contagious. That I think makes him -- that's the first thing that makes him the player he is. He can run very well. He's got a good football IQ, he understands the game, it comes easy to him. He's not a high rep guy. You can pass him on the bench, you can pass him in the hallway and say, Andre, on so and so, so and so and so?and?so we want you to undercut the guard and then post the center. Gotcha. Some guys can't do that. You can draw it, you can walk through it, you can practice and they've got erasers. They just erase it out of their head and the next day you reteach it.

Andre is a guy that just gets the game. So he's a lot of fun to coach in that regard, and then he's got the talent to play at a higher level than -- just a gift to play at a higher level than some people can play.

This West Virginia offense has been described by its own coach as being pretty simple. I think they installed the basics in three days. In what ways is it simple and how does that simplicity lead to effectiveness?
Steele: Well, their running game is based off of the zone or what we call the O play where they're going to pull a lead blocker because their lead blocker becomes the offside guard, so they'll pull or they'll just run the zone. Then there's the screens built into it, the H screen, the jailbreak wide receiver inside screen, and then the now screen where they just pick it up and throw it out there, and then they've got their down the field passing game, which gets into the vertical stretch game.

But then their intermediate, the deep passing game, is all built off of what we call the crash 6 or crash 7, once you've got an inside cut and a 7 cut, out cut with what people used to call in the old days the corner route, or the post route. That's what it's ?? or dig, I'm sorry.

And when you see that and you watch tape as much as 30 days of watching it, it's got to where now some of the plays, so much -- it's not even -- you see them line up and you kind of know, okay, it's the Pittsburgh game, it's on the 43-yard line, it's 3rd and 7, here's the play, and the guy is going to fall down. You just know. But in seeing all that, there's a lot of routes that are just run over and over and other and over and over and over through the course of the year. And in that regard, I think that's what Dana is talking about. I don't know, you'd have to ask him. But from a defensive perspective, it's based on high tempo execution. That's what it's based on.

I don't know how sentimental you get about this kind of stuff, probably not at all, but you've been to the Orange Bowl a couple times in your career. Have you talked to the guys about your experiences and what it could mean for them and the memory that they can take out of this if they would go in and play at their peak?
Steele: Well, I think this is eight, I think, seven or eight. That either means that you've been with really, really good teams or you're getting older, and both of those are true. When you coach at Nebraska, Florida State, Alabama and Clemson, obviously you've got good teams, so they bring you to games like the Orange Bowl. I think the Nebraska run I think was four or five in a row, so you get kind of familiar with the Orange Bowl.

Yeah, I love coming here personally. I have not talked to them about it since we captured the championship, but before we went to Charlotte to the ACC Championship, I did talk to them about the Orange Bowl experience and what it meant, and even at that point in time what an Orange Bowl championship trophy means and the memories of that. But that was before the championship game in Charlotte, not since.

You talk about Branch and his enthusiasm. How about a guy like a Thompson and Rennie Moore and some of the other seniors who are on their last roundup? Do you see anything special in the way they've approached this, or have you talked to them about, hey, remember -- do you remind them or do they need to be reminded this is the last go-around for them?

Rennie Moore is one of three senior starters on the Clemson defensive line.
Steele: No, I think they don't need to be reminded. In fact, what you hear out there when they're stretching, before practice, on the bus going back to practice, that kind of stuff, coming back from it, you hear them talking about it. But that's pretty standard with my time in coaching Bowl games in particular, because you're in a hotel, you're not at home. When you end the season without going to a Bowl game, then you don't hear all that. But once you get to a place like this and you ride to practice on the bus for 15 minutes or ride back for 15 minutes or 30 minutes or whatever, you've got the functions, you're in the hotel so you're around them -- we're already around them a bunch, but when you're actually now living with them and riding in vehicles with them all the time, you hear a lot more, and that's when you hear them talking about the sentimental things; this is my last game and I want this to happen; this is my last game, I want to do this.

Some of it is very emotional and some of it is very true, and some of it is like, hey, coach, if I score in this game you know I'm going to spike the ball. No, you're not going to spike the ball. You can't suspend them for a game if they do it, though, because they're done.

Was that Thompson?
Steele: You can guess who it was. You guess. That sounds more like Rennie, doesn't it?

I think most people envision this game as a shootout, and I'm wondering, do you have any reason to think it might not be a shootout, and also, is that frustrating for a defensive coordinator? Everybody talks about the offenses.
Steele: No, I've been doing this long enough to know now that the external factors, it is what it is. The people who write newspapers, the people who do the TV shows, they have to have something to talk about. They've got to pick a lane.

They just can't go in there and say, well, we've got this match?up and let's see how it comes out. They've got to kind of create something to get people's attention. So they pick, and they don't know any more than we know. Is it going to be a shootout, is it not going to be a shootout. I think the greatest example of that is last year's National Championship game, Oregon and Auburn. I think if you listen to all the things or read all the things that are written about this game, you would have probably thought that that game was going somewhere around 54-52, and they struggled to score any points.

So what you figure out as coaches is that's kind of irrelevant. You just go with it.

"I've recruited the Dade-Broward area since 1983-84, so I can actually drive to every high school in Dade and Broward County pretty much without a GPS and I can find my hotel without a GPS, so I know what I'm doing."

How have you changed your approach to targeting kids in recruiting?
Steele: Not really a whole lot. I've recruited the Dade-Broward area since 1983-84, so I can actually drive to every high school in Dade and Broward County pretty much without a GPS and I can find my hotel without a GPS, so I know what I'm doing. And in that regard, I've always just kind of thought that there's a lot of talent here, and you've got to find the guys that fit your program. That varies from when I was at Florida State. Obviously it was the in-state area so we were mass recruiting, trying to get everybody, but because your needs get filled in state or closer to home, then that has a predictor on who you recruit from this area.

We're just now getting back into this area even though I've had the area. What's really changed in recruiting now, particularly if you're a coordinator, with nine coaches plus the head coach, ten recruiters, and you can only have seven on the road at the time, someone has got to stay home. Well, guess who gets to stay home? The coordinators. So it does affect your recruiting as an area recruiter, not so much as a defensive recruiter because I see all the defensive players, but there's players here, and you've just got to know who you're dealing with and what you're getting. But that's no different if it's in state or out of state. Top Stories