Bicknell Says Tigers Belong in Top 10

No doubt that Clemson has had it tough defensively with all the injuries. But take a look at what Louisiana Tech endured through the early part of the season and it's easy to see why the Bulldogs statistically have one of the worst defenses in the nation.

First off, there are only two returning starters from last season for the Bulldogs (1-2), which means there are nine new starters. Also, five linebackers currently have shoulder problems and a starter on the line was lost for good before the season even began.

But what's worse is the secondary.

One of the returning starters from a year ago is free safety Dez Abrams. But the other three surrounding him in the defensive backfield is a work in progress, to say the least.

Consider that Louisiana Tech's leading rusher in 2005 is now a starting safety, while at the same time, a starting cornerback played receiver last season.

Safety Mark Dillard, a junior, started eight games at tailback last season and led the team with more than 600 yards rushing. He's now three games into his new career as a defensive player.

Then there's starting cornerback Weldon Brown, a sophomore, who has been moved around more than a Bedouin searching for water.

Brown began last season as a running back, getting his only carry in the season's first game against Florida. Three games later, he was moved to receiver, where he finished the season. He also served as one of the team's kickoff returners.

Like Dillard, Brown was moved to defense during the spring. However, for him, his moves were just beginning.

During the first half of spring, Brown played cornerback, before being moved to safety. But he began fall practice as a safety, before once again being switched back to cornerback on Aug. 21.

He recently earned his first start against Texas A&M.

Talk about a crash course. And here most thought Clemson cornerback Duane Coleman had it rough as a newbie on defense. He's a grizzled veteran compared to these two.

"The toughest place to play in the world is the secondary," Louisiana Tech coach Jack Bicknell said. "I feel like those guys are doing a fantastic job. I feel like the ones back there are going to be great players, not just good players. But the experience factor is the major thing."

What has hurt the progress of the secondary, especially for Brown and Weldon, are all the vast offenses the Bulldogs have faced to date. Just once, Bicknell would like to face a "normal" offense.

"Each week, it's something totally different," he said. "We go from the option, then you've got Nebraska with all kinds of shifts, then you go to Texas A&M, which is zone read and option throw-back, then you get into Clemson, which is just a total mess. So, it's not like it's easy back there for those guys. I guarantee you this, after this week, they'll have seen everything that can possibly be thrown at them in college football."

Bicknell, who is a breath of fresh air with his candidness, said this week's game at No. 18 Clemson is going to be the biggest test yet for his guys on defense.

"If Clemson's not in the top 10, then I must not know anything about football," he said to a group of reporters. "I think they will be there by the end of the year. If anybody would like to come up and watch the first three quarters of the North Carolina game, they're welcomed. I'll be watching right up there in my office and then you can tell me what you think, because it was unbelievable. …

"This will also be the biggest challenge for our defense because they're going to be shifting and doing 8,000 different things with 8,000 different formations."

Bicknell said he just hopes his team plays more like Boston College and Florida State as opposed to North Carolina.

"Nothing against North Carolina, but (the Tigers) just seemed to jam it down their throat," he said. "The run game was just the visible difference. Boston College and Florida State wasn't quite like that and I'm hoping we're not quite like that, either. North Carolina … they just jammed it down their throat and that's what we've got to try to avoid because that opens up everything."

However, Bicknell cited Clemson's ability to move the ball against a team like the Seminoles, but then added that he doesn't like to make excuses for his team's lack of success.

"We all know how good Florida State's defense is, at least," he said. "I hate to make excuses because who cares if (the teams) have got different formations. They're great players, maybe some of the better players we've ever had back there, but they are just inexperienced."

Bicknell said that like with any young team, you have to take the good with the bad. He just hopes his team isn't looking past Clemson to next week's game against Boise State, which is the Bulldogs' biggest game of the season.

"I can show you 80 percent of the A&M game and the Nebraska game and show our defense just shutting them down. It's unbelievable," he said. "We're doing some good things. I'm encouraged, but we've got to get it straightened out in a hurry. But we do have to stop giving up big plays. That's the key."

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