CLEMSON -- Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele notes his defense has played 206 snaps this season, and 180 plays have been adequate or better. But it's the other 26 plays, particularly the 14 plays resulting in 20 or more yards, which concern Steele. Even veteran players are guilty of missing tackles, taking poor angles and getting caught looking at the wrong place, which has resulted in big plays.
Clemson has allowed a play of 40 yards or more in each game this season and ranks 10th in the ACC in total defense (419 yards per game). The young defense will face perhaps its greatest test of the season against No. 11 Florida State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The Seminoles feature a rugged, veteran offensive line, talented skill players and one of the country's most imposing quarterbacks in E.J. Manuel, who is questionable with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
"When you sit there and see the offenses make chunk plays against us that comes down to eyes, pursuit angles and tackling, we have a problem. We're not a very good defense," Steele said. "Good defenses don't play 55 good plays and then seven plays where they don't play with eyes, don't tackle well and don't take good pursuit angles. I'm not going to sugar-coat it."
Youth movement stalls
Steele said fewer young defenders played against Auburn due to the game being a close contest. Steele said it was by design to force young defenders like freshman linebackers Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony into early playing time against Troy and Wofford. Steward did not play a snap against Auburn, Anthony played seven.
"We made the decision early that we were going to suffer some statistically in the first two games," Steele said. "We felt like we had to get those guys exposed and play them because we thought there was going to be a point (in the season) where we needed to play them."
Does freshman WR Sammy Watkins have a weakness? Head coach Dabo Swinney struggled to identify one Tuesday.
"He just needs to stay how he is and he'll be just fine," Swinney said. "I don't know really how to answer that … I'd like to say he needs to get physically stronger, but he's 207 pounds and his size is not a weakness. He'll probably be a 215-pound player at some point."
He said it
Clemson defensive tackle Rennie Moore said the defense is aware of Manuel's injured non-throwing shoulder. Said Moore: "We are going to key on (Manuel) … we know he's hurt."