"We've got to get better"

GREENVILLE – The way Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning sees it, there are only two ways his defense can improve – get better players and do a better job of coaching the ones already on the roster.

Fans are focused in on the 2-3 record of the Tigers and are extremely disgruntled. However, and had a few things gone differently, they could be undefeated and most likely those same fans would be singing the coaching staff's praises.

But in reality, there would still be tons of issues on both sides of the ball.

"We're three plays away from being 5-0 and being ranked eighth or ninth in the country and we wouldn't be any better of a football team than we are right now," Koenning said Monday afternoon at the Greenville Touchdown Club. "The right answer is we've got to recruit, recruit, recruit, recruit and recruit and work hard with the players that we have to get them to stay the course."

Clemson is coming off a solid year of recruiting and all indications are that this upcoming class is going to be strong as well, maybe even better. But it's still going to take a while for these freshmen and next year's crop to fill the void left by two years of bad recruiting classes.

"The thing we've got to do a better job of, quite frankly, we've got to recruit players that can play at a higher level," Koenning said. "We're pretty darn solid with freshmen. It's exciting for me to go out there every day and see all these young kids behind (the upperclassmen)."

The downside to playing nine red-shirt and true freshmen is that they are prone to making mistakes. But what Koenning didn't anticipate is that the veterans are making nearly just as many gaffs.

And because of that, he's dumb-downed his schemes.

"So much of this game is mental and it's probably something mental," Koenning said of his team's inability to grasp the scheme. "We've got about two good plays out of our starters (on the last drive against Wake Forest) and we were forced to put other guys in there and it just showed that we have not progressed as far as we would have like to. …

"I cut it by a third after the first game and I cut probably another third after last week's game and I'm still having guys line up on the wrong side. … I'm struggling mightily to get our guys to understand the package that I'm bringing here. It's very similar to what Tampa Bay runs (but not as complex)."

While it would seem that a lot of the blame should fall on the players, Koenning said it should also lie with him.

"We've just got to do a better job of coaching," he said. "Put it on me. We're got to do better. You've just got to sit here and say we've got to keep coaching fundamentals. …

"They're all some guys that were brought in here with the expectations and with ability or they wouldn't have been brought in to Clemson. We need to get it done with the players that we've got here. We do have some guys that we have to recruit. We've got to recruit better or we're going to continue to not be able to cover and not be able to rush the passer or this or that.

"We've got to get better. But it's my job to do the best with the players that we've got right now. I don't think anybody likes to be judged as a coach with the players that they have (when going to a new program), but it was my choice to come to Clemson and I'm going to do the very best that I can and that's all I can do. Am I going to continue to recruit? Sure, to try and get us better. It's going to be our staff and Coach Bowden that takes us to the next level."

One of the biggest disappointments this year has been the play of safety C.J. Gaddis, who was moved from cornerback before the season started. He had another blown assignment against Wake Forest that resulted in a touchdown. As a result, Michael Hamlin will start against N.C. State next week.

"I think you've got to have some repercussions for not playing well," Koenning said. "I've got to, as his position coach, get through to him to play at the expectations that he has for himself and that I have for him. I also can't afford to lose C.J. and have him go over the edge. I've got to find a way to get him to understand that he can do better.

"Mike Hamlin deserves the opportunity. Quite frankly, he was supposed to start in this game. I looked after the turnover and C.J. was out there and when you get into a situation like that, that's not the time that you deal with that."

Cornerback Sergio Gilliam also got burned for a long touchdown, but Koenning's options are a little more limited. He said Duane Coleman hasn't done as well as he had hoped.

"(Coleman) had a bad week last week and I've also thought about moving Chris Clemons back to corner," Koenning said. "We've got to get better production. I don't want to judge Sergio on one bad play. That's not fair to him because he has made some good plays, but that was a bad play. We've got to find a way to get better. If we don't try to improve some things, then we'd be status quo."

And nobody, fans and coaches alike, wants that.

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