Defense Must Improve

Any way you slice it, the numbers are downright ugly. Through the first three games of the 2004 football season, Clemson's defense has been almost nonexistent.

Teams are passing over and running through the Tigers, while at the same time protecting the football.

The Tigers (1-2 overall, 1-1 ACC) are last in the ACC in rushing defense and turnover margin. They have also allowed the most first downs. They are also ninth in the league in scoring defense and 10th in total defense.

Moreover, Clemson, thus far, has one of the worst defenses in the country. It ranks 100 out of 117 Division I teams in rush defense (230 yards per game), 52nd in pass defense (195 yards per game), 89th in total defense (425 yards per game), and 78th in scoring defense (28.3 points per game).

But what may be the biggest surprise is the fact that the Tigers are minus-seven in the turnover ration department, which ranks them 112th in the nation.

There's absolutely no way to sugarcoat those numbers.

"I would not be satisfied with the results so far, because the best way to win a championship is strength of defense, scoring defense, and it starts with defensive the line," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "Our inability to stop the run in the first three games is definitely a concern, and one we need to address. But that's where it usually starts, up front. I think we pretty much got manhandled up there last week against (Texas) A&M."

Against Texas A&M, it became more evident on how many problems there are on the defense, when the Aggies ran for more yardage than they had it seven years. They also got a decent amount throwing, while at the same time not committing a single turnover.

"They ran for 350 yards. That's just ridiculous," defensive lineman Eric Coleman said. "Three hundred and fifty yards, that tells a lot. It hurts because you know we're a better team than that."

And with Florida State looming on the horizon, the situation could become dire real quick.

"Obviously when you look at our rushing stats you're going to try to run the football," Clemson defensive coordinator John Lovett said. "I would."

Ask five different people associated with the team what the problem with the defense is and you'll get five different answers. And some are a lot more optimistic than others, including Bowden.

"We've only played three games," he said. "There's still a lot of football left, but I think it's important that we improve from week to week. The defensive staff is studying ways to improve it. I know for us to be successful, the front four are going to have to be lot more productive than they have in the first three games. …

"Personnel is personnel. If we had better personnel we'd be playing them. A lot of this personnel was successful last year. I've got a lot of confidence in our defensive staff. It found solutions to the problems last year. Our success the last four games was because of how we played defense, and a lot of these guys played in that environment."

Coleman as well as safety Jamaal Fudge, has a different view.

"We don't have that senior leadership right now that we had last year," Fudge said. "We've just got to come together and get that leadership back. … There weren't too many vocal leaders (last season), just people you know that you can count on and people that you respect a lot on the defense. There were a lot of quiet leaders. … We don't have that person to step up and get on you."

Coleman added even more.

"Every year the leadership changes, the style changes and the way people do their leading also changes," he said. "Last year we had a lot of vocal leaders. This year, the only real vocal leader that we have is Mo Fountain. He speaks up when really no one else will. Everyone leads from their actions.

"There might be something that we want to say and we just don't do it. I feel at times we all need to speak up more and let the rest of our teammates know what's on our mind and let them know what we're thinking and what we think needs to be changed."

Regardless of there is leadership or not, at some point each person is accountable for his own play. And there's really only been one person to take full responsibility, and it wasn't Bowden.

"We didn't play well Saturday," Lovett said. "For whatever reason, we didn't play well. Whether it was the trip, whether it was the bus ride, whether it was Texas A&M, we didn't play well. That's the bottom line. The first thing you've always got to check is fundamentals.

"I'm not going to sit here and say it's the tackles. It's everybody. It's the tackles, it's the ends and it's the linebackers. We just haven't made tackles. We haven't gotten off blocks and made tackles. That's all there is to it. … "Leroy Hill missed several tackles this week. Eric Coleman missed several tackles this week. Mo Fountain missed several tackles this week. We all had chances and we all missed tackles. … "It was me. OK? That's who it was. You want to point a finger? It was me. I didn't get them ready to play and I'll take full responsibility for it."

However, the truth of the matter is that Lovett's not the one on the field missing the tackles, allowing pass completions or not creating turnovers. He can only do so much.

"With all the preseason hype, it put a lot of pressure on us to get interceptions, but teams aren't really testing us," Fudge said. "We really haven't had many opportunities to get the big play and interceptions."

Cornerback Justin Miller sees things differently.

"I really don't think we're struggling," he said of the secondary and the lack of interceptions. "We might have made a couple of mistakes. …

"It doesn't concern me. As long as you get out there and give it your all and do things you know you have to do, I really don't too much care about the interceptions."

As a result of the poor play, Lovett has simplified the defense and has gone back to fundamentals. The defense will practice tackling and other aspects that is usually covered in the first weeks of fall practice.

"We're not changing what we do or overhauling what we do, we're just making sure that we address some of the finer points of things and keep working on the guys because the guys that we have are the guys that we have," Lovett said. "There's nobody else here. You may move guys around, but these are the guys we have.

"I think part of the problem is maturity. … Maybe we don't have someone with the intestinal fortitude to stand up and say, ‘Look, we've got to put this fire out right now. Let's go.' " Top Stories