New Concerns for Koenning

CLEMSON – After much concern with the defense going into the first game of the season, Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning reiterated much of those same worries Tuesday, with some added new ones, after Saturday night's performance against Texas A&M.

"Our defense guys better be hungry because their defensive coordinator, the guy who is responsible for them, is extremely mad and upset and we're going to have a hard, hard, hard edge," a dejected and tired looking Koenning said. "That was not even close to being good enough Saturday. Not even on the same planet to being good enough. Just being truthful. ...

"We had a hard time trying to find out what we were doing out there. There were enough (missed assignments) to last a season."

The biggest problem wasn't effort, but rather missed assignments. Players were constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"There were 51 graded plays," Koenning said of the game. "I'd say there were five plays where somebody didn't make a mistake. … I got tired of writing it down. ...

"I don't know. I wished somebody would come and tell me why. We have just got to learn to execute. Even the second week of two-a-days I was having some concern about the MA's and I was going to do something about it. So, I was getting on them pretty good and they cut down somewhat. I'm not belittling our kids at all because they played their tails off. We were unguided heat-seeking missiles. They've got to learn to be guided heat-seeking missiles."

There are several perfect examples of what Koenning is talking about. On Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal's 49-yard run in the fourth quarter that ultimately led to a go-ahead touchdown, there were only 10 players on the field.

And that wasn't the only time.

"We didn't have a ‘Will' linebacker," Koenning said. "Coach (David) Blackwell tried to say it was his fault. I say it's my fault because I'm ultimately responsible. We have a rotation that we talk to our guys about ... on Coach Blackwell's behalf, it's not his fault. If I'm a ‘Will' linebacker and nobody's out there ... it's got to fall back some to the players at their positions. One of the things we're still trying to teach our players is you need to be watching your position. I had to go find a corner twice when Tye Hill came off. I had to go back two rows to find a corner. That's my responsibility."

However, on a few of the missed assignments, things actually worked out fine. Just don't ask Koenning how it happened.

"A prime example was the last play on defense," he said. "Gaines Adams was supposed to have the (fullback) dive, Nick Watkins is supposed to have the quarterback and the pitch is two guys in the secondary. Nick took the dive and Gaines took the quarterback, so two negatives made a positive. It's one of those things you go how in the heck did all of that happen. The Lord was with us, we got lucky and thank goodness our offense played great."

There's also other areas of frustration that has Koenning ready to pull his hair out. In Monday's meeting, he asked players to raise their hands if they came in and watched film Sunday. Only two raised their hands.

"I'd have been banging on the windows trying to get in," he said. "The doors were open. The grade sheets were sitting out."

And because of all this, Koenning feels though he's not getting the job done as a coach.

"The two sayings you have are you're either coaching it or allowing it to happen," he said. "Obviously I'm not doing what I need to be doing. I've got to figure out a different way of coaching these guys to do the things that they're supposed to do. We're not very complicated. The option pass that they hit at the end of the game, we ran that exact same play 10 times in practice on Wednesday. We ran that at least twice against every single coverage that we have and we intercepted about seven of them in practice. ...

"We've got to find new ways to get across to them certain things. It was not that complicated when push came to shove. ... Coach (Tommy) Bowden came up to me yesterday and was asking a question about a totally unrelated subject, and he goes, ‘OK, Vic, you're me.' And I said well first of all, I'm you so don't fire me after one game. It falls back to me, I kind of made a little bit light of we're going to be a work in progress defensively because we've got so many guys, but I never thought it would be that. ...

"It probably looks like I hadn't slept, and I haven't slept and I'm a guy who needs seven or eight hours. I'm not a five hour guy, but I'm not getting four a night. I take it extremely personal. It's going to be rectified, it's going to get better, we're going to continue to fly around the football but we're going to be guided hit seeking missiles. If I was a general we would have killed a few civilians."

But not all was doom and gloom. Koenning was very happy about quite a lot, including the intensity at which the team played. He thinks maybe part of the problem is the extreme youth and inexperience of the defense. And that only gets better with time.

"I guess you can chalk it up to youth, and we did play a lot of young guys, a lot of guys were very excited to play the game and we've all been to church," he said. "But when it's time to go to church to get married you get kind of nervous. So maybe it's the overexcitement of being in that game. ...

"We could have held them. It could have been complete stone. We've got to draw from that. We're pretty fast, and we actually did a good job up front. A lot of people were really worried about us matching up front. With a couple of exceptions, we held in pretty good up front. ... We've got a chance to be a really, really special defense, one that everybody's going to be throwing babies into the aisles (from throwing their arms up in celebration)."

And that's the way Koenning is, he won't settle for anything less. And he expects his players to settle for nothing less.

"Our guys better be hungry," he said. "We better have a chip on our shoulders, because our coaches do. I know I do. I'm ready to fight. ... (Saturday) is not acceptable. That is not why I'm here."

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