CLEMSON -- Fixing the defense is atop Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney's priority list with a trip to Auburn less than two weeks away.
North Texas gave Clemson's 35-10 season-opening victory a hollow feeling by outgaining the power-conference opponent on its home field. The Tigers have a final tune-up against Presbyterian on Saturday at Death Valley.
"We didn't execute like we are capable of from a tackling standpoint," said Swinney during his Sunday teleconference. "That was probably the most disappointing thing to me."
If removing sack yardage, like the NFL standard for measuring rushing totals, North Texas averaged 4.9 yards per rush and totaled 215 rushing yards.
North Texas -- owners of five victories in the last three seasons -- totaled 462 total yards to Clemson's 423.
Clemson featured new faces at linebacker, with Corico Hawkins starting in the middle and Jonathan Willard at weakside linebacker. But Clemson had the same old defensive problems as last year, when the Tigers allowed at least 162 rushing yards in four of its five losses.
"Willard was getting his first start," Swinney said, "Hopefully (Willard) will learn from film and get better."
Swinney is hopeful linebacker Brandon Maye (knee) can return Saturday. Maye was the starter at middle linebacker last year, but was moved to the weakside this offseason where he was listed as a co-starter with Willard.
Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele attributed part of the woes to "maybe being on the field too long, maybe working them too hard."
Clemson's defenders were on the field for 83 snaps and 44 minutes as the Tigers struggled to force North Texas off the field.
The Mean Green converted 11 of 22 third-down situations. Steele said the goal is to limit offenses to a 30 percent success rate on third down.
"Obviously, we have to do some things better and the first thing is tackling," Steele said following Saturday's win. "We just weren't sharp."
Steele said Clemson employed a relatively simple game plan to combat the unknowns of dealing with a Mean Green team fielding a new offensive coordinator. "They did a lot of things, they were all over the map," he said. "There was some interesting stuff out there. They had a thick game plan in the form of formations and shifts."
Not all performances were suspect.
Da'Quan Bowers was impressive with a team-best eight tackles and a sack. Clemson got to North Texas quarterbacks regularly (five sacks) and the defensive backs covered well (two interceptions). But there is work to be done with a meeting with Auburn 12 days away.
"We've got to take this film and challenge the guys," Swinney said, "and hopefully play like we are capable of."
In addition to Maye, another potential Clemson defensive starter is questionable for Presbyterian. Defensive tackle Miguel Chavis, who started over incumbent Brandon Thompson on Saturday, suffered a low-grade ankle sprain Saturday.
Despite leading a defense that struggled Saturday, Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers had a team-high eight tackles and a sack.×
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