Clemson coach vows to improve defense
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A year ago, Dabo Swinney stood at the podium in the depths of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte immediately following a bowl loss and vowed to improve a stagnant offense. Two days later, Swinney fired offensive coordinator Billy Napier and running backs coach Andre Powell.
Swinney identified a new philosophy, hired a new offensive coordinator, signed Sammy Watkins, and Clemson's offense made major strides, averaging 107 more yards per game in 2011 -- the greatest yards per game improvement among power-conference teams.
So it was a deja vu moment early Thursday morning as Swinney stood at a podium in the depths of Sun Life Stadium and vowed to improve the other side of the ball, following an embarrassing loss to West Virginia.
That Swinney was speaking in Miami and not Charlotte was indicative of better overall campaign, but like last season, Clemson is incomplete. The Tigers (10-4) have a significant ailing unit, its defense.
Clemson allowed a college football bowl record of 70 points to the
Mountaineers and the second-highest point total allowed in its history. After ranking 25th and 13th nationally in points allowed in Kevin Steele's first two years as the Clemson defensive coordinator, the defense slumped to 81st this season, allowing 29.3 points per game.
"I'm as confident as I was last year standing here in a press conference at 6-7 and telling you we'd fix it," Swinney said. "We'll be better. There's no doubt in my mind."
But unlike last year, Swinney indicated he would not make drastic changes when it came to staff personnel.
"Ain't nobody forgot how to coach or anything like that," Swinney said. "We've got to look at everything we've done this year, good and bad, and evaluate. ... We are the ACC champions, we did win 10 games. So it's not like we haven't done anything but we have not played to our standard defensively."
Steele was still the defensive coordinator Thursday evening, recruiting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Steele told The Post and Courier on Thursday there was no truth to reports linking him to the vacant defensive coordinator position at Tennessee.
Rather than looking for external solutions, Swinney indicated early Sunday morning he will seek internal improvement.
The Clemson staff expected some defensive regression this year, as it lost six defensive starters from last season, including three players who were second-round picks in the NFL draft.
Clemson's defense will lose two more projected top 50 picks in defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and defensive end Andre Branch, who led the team with 10.5 sacks.
"We knew we were going to have some (defensive) struggles this year," Swinney said. "We've just got to grow some guys up and they will get better from this experience."
Players like freshman linebackers Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward and defensive end Corey Crawford will be counted on to improve.
Clemson was most balanced under Swinney in 2009, when Kyle Parker and C.J. Spiller headlined the offense and Steele led a quality defensive effort. Last year, it was the offense that needed fixing, now it's the defense. What Clemson Nation has to hope is that Swinney makes good on another promise and Clemson enters the 2012 season with a complete team.