CLEMSON -- The declaration did not come before a room crowded with reporters and television cameras. The words are unlikely to be immortalized on a placard. But if the Tigers reverse course, DeAndre McDaniel's Tim Tebow-like promise Tuesday might mark a turning point.
Before a handful of reporters in a quiet corner of the West Zone, Clemson's senior safety took ownership of coverage busts -- two resulting in 22- and 65-yard touchdowns against Miami -- and vowed to improve a unit ranking 85th in total defense.
"I had a horrible game, honestly," McDaniel said. "That's something our fans, our coaches, our players don't have to worry about from here on out."
It was a painful all-around day for McDaniel, who had four of his lower teeth knocked loose after he took a helmet to his facemask.
McDaniel and the Clemson secondary receive another test at North Carolina on Saturday against a Tar Heels team featuring an improved offense. UNC is led by the ACC's most accurate quarterback, T.J. Yates (68 pct. passing), who is averaging 252 yards per game and has seven touchdowns against one interception.
After earning All-American honors last season after recording eight interceptions, McDaniel hasn't produced much tape to show off to
NFL scouts early this season.
During Miami quarterback Jacory Harris' first touchdown throw to Leonard Hankerson on Saturday, McDaniel raced toward an uncovered running back in the flat, leaving Hankerson uncovered.
On a 65-yard touchdown throw to Hankerson, McDaniel bit on an intermediate route, while Hankerson raced past.
McDaniel said he was "thinking" too much Saturday, trying to bait Harris too much, taking away from his natural instinctive play.
The staff has tried to curtail McDaniel's on-field gambling that occasionally results in a tackle for loss or interception, but also in big-play busts.
Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said McDaniel must let plays come to him.
"DeAndre is a great football player," Steele said. "But I think he just needs to relax -- he's trying too hard. That's not a negative. You'd rather say 'whoah' than 'giddy-up.' Giddy-up is not a problem. Let the plays come to you and you'll be fine."
Though Steele cautioned he was not specifically addressing the secondary, Steele said: "If you are not careful, you create a mindset with defensive football players that if you don't have three sacks, two tackles for losses, four of these, then you didn't have a good game. What happens is (a mindset of) 'I need to start to get mine.' Then you start farming someone else's land, and you can't make a living doing that."
A year after Clemson ranked seventh in pass defense, the Tigers rank 59th (204 ypg).
After Saturday's loss, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said "obviously, some guys are confused" on defense. Asked Tuesday if his scheme is too complex, Steele took issue with the question.
"When something doesn't look right or somebody doesn't like something, they start trying to figure out what's wrong with it," Steele said. "We'll get it fixed."
Steele said Clemson's defensive performance was better Saturday than last season's performance against Miami, but said the perception is different because of the score.
Steele pointed out the Tigers allowed fewer total yards and points to the Hurricanes on Saturday than last fall. Steele said Clemson had 14 missed assignments Saturday versus 24 last season at Miami.
"It doesn't mean we are happy," Steele said. "But when the rest of the world panics, that's when coaches and players go to work and get things corrected. Good teams do that.
"This isn't our first rodeo."
Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks.
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