CLEMSON -- ESPN analyst Jon Gruden recently asked Sean Payton how he avoided overanalyzing his game plan for February's Super Bowl. Gruden had been in the same position with Tampa Bay, agonizing over every detail leading up to the NFL's title game.
The New Orleans Saints coach said he followed a rule learned under mentor Bill Parcells: Once the play sheet is laminated, that's it. No more analyzing. No more second guessing.
Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will laminate his call sheet Friday mornin
g, a soft deadline on a week lending itself to overthinking. Clemson's season-opening opponent North Texas has a new offensive coordinator in Mike Canales -- who held the same position at South Florida -- and a star talent in Lance Dunbar. The North Texas running back finished 15th in rushing last year and will test Clemson's reportedly improved run defense at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
"Games like this are the most frustrating because you have the South Florida game plan, and you've got the North Texas game plan," Steele said. "You have the combination of both. You have to basically do two game plans and marry the two.
"You can get paralysis by analysis, I promise you."
There is no video evidence of
Canales' tendencies at North Texas.
Clemson safety Rashard Hall compared the dual film study to preparing for Middle Tennessee last season, which also had a new offensive coordinator.
Clemson wonders if the Mean Green's game plan will be similar to Canales' South Florida teams.
Will it resemble head coach Todd Dodge's spread of last season? Will it be a hybrid of the two, or something new in an attempt to create their own Appalachian State-over-Michigan moment?
"One has a lot more motion than the other," Steele said of the two schemes. "You can put North Texas film on (from last season) and see very little if any motion or shifts. The other one (Canales' offense) there's extreme motion … 10-15 plays in a row where you've got some kind of motion."
Formulating a game plan is arguably more difficult for Steele than his offensive counterpart at Clemson, Billy Napier, who has a lunchtime Thursday deadline for finalizing a game plan.
"Defensively, we don't get to pick and choose what we call," Steele said. "It's reactionary. It's based on down and distance, personnel group and the personality of the play caller, what you project he is going to call.
"Because of that, it's got to happen in a 10- to 15-second span, max. It's not one of these deals where you can go, 'OK let's see, let's call this.' "
Steele told reporters Tuesday he will watch film until 11 p.m. Friday. He'll tweak the game plan as late as Saturday, scribbling on his laminated call sheet.
"Little things will invariably pop up," Steele said. "Maybe you have a call you are going to use … as a kind of surprise element. You can only (practice the play) six or eight times -- you can't get that against all looks. All of the sudden you sit there on a Thursday night (watching film) and go 'Whoa … Let's not call that in this situation.' "
The good news for Steele's planning efforts is that early returns indicate an improved Clemson run defense.
Last year, Clemson allowed at least 162 rushing yards in four of its five losses. The defense will get an early stress test against Dunbar, who gained 1,678 yards from scrimmage and scored 19 touchdowns last season.
"We came out of some scrimmages where we had been very effective in yards per carry," Steele said. "We have a much better understanding of gap control than we had at this time last year."
That development could lead to a more wins, a dynamic defense, and lessen post-lamination paralysis by analysis.