In the 34-17 loss to South Carolina and the 39-34 loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC title game, Clemson's defense gave up a combined total of 556 yards rushing and 301 yards passing. The Gamecocks rushed for a score and threw for three more meanwhile the Yellow Jackets scored three rushing and threw for another.
In addition, Georgia Tech scored on all but one drive and never punted once in its five-point win over the Tigers.
"We couldn't get off the field," Steele said. "And it wasn't the big gashes, other than the hitch-and-go. It's not something we can't show them, they can't understand, we can't fix, we can't get better at as a collective defensive group…coaches, players--everybody. That still doesn't take care of the fact that we've got to get that psychological edge back."
At the same time, he believes the evaluation of the Clemson defense should be broad, sweeping look over the course of the season, not just its final two games.
"People are very quick to judge these players. I'm not talking about coaches, coaches are free game," Steele said. "They forget about the Wake Forest game, the 54 yards against Boston College, the 13 points, one touchdown to TCU.
"That gets thrown over there in the moat, and the players get judged on the last eight quarters."
At the center of the judgment is middle linebacker Brandon Maye, who serves as the signal caller on the field for Steele. Maye mentioned three areas that have hampered the Clemson defense in its last two outings.
"We just didn't execute as well as we could. Focus and playing with your eyes," he said. "Those are the three things that what makes up a defense. Your eyes are the big thing. You've got to see what you see and react fast."
Personally, Maye thinks he could improve "some of the run fits" against South Carolina and Georgia Tech.
"Some of the stuff, I just didn't know because I'm so young in this defense. It's like I'm a freshman all over again," he said.
By the time Sunday's game rolls around, Maye will have had two weeks to study Kentucky's "Wild-Cobb" formation with wide receiver Randall Cobb engineering the offense out of the wildcat formation.
"We've got some copycat going on here. I definitely expect to see Cobb at quarterback," Maye said. "He's a very explosive player. We have a great game plan for him and Kentucky. We're just going to come out and do what coach Steele asks of us."
He believes the Tigers' defense will perform better against the wildcat than in weeks past.
"We just didn't have a good understanding of the wildcat. This week, we've done a good job breaking it down," Maye said. "Guys are working on their run fits and filling their gaps. I think we've got a good game plan."
If the Clemson defense doesn't find its psychological edge in the next few days, it could be a winter full of questions for Maye and Steele.
Losing its edge?
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