CLEMSON -- During a Tennessee spring football practice in 1978, a linebacker weaved through blockers on a screen play but whiffed on the tackle. Volunteers coach Johnny Majors was irate.
Majors detained the linebacker and had Kevin Steele tackle offensive linemen 38 times after practice as punishment for the missed tackle.
"(Majors) sat on a (tackling) dummy and watched," said Steele, Clemson's defensive coordinator. "I was so angry. But the next time I had an opportunity to make a tackle, I had a little more sense of urgency to apply the technique properly."
The post-practice scene playing out on the Knoxville, Tenn., practice fields more than 30 years ago would not occur in today's game. Scholarship numbers have been reduced, decreasing depth, and the number of days teams can practice in full pads has been cut. As a result, tackling fundamentals have suffered in the college game.
Poor tackling has hurt Clemson this season as the Tigers (2-0) prepare to host Auburn (2-0) and its talented running back duo of Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb at noon Saturday (WCIV/ABC-TV).
"Is tackling different in modern football than it was 20 years ago? In my opinion, yes," Steele said. "Not too many teams are out there all fall tackling (players like) running back Mike Bellamy and those guys every day. It's not because we wouldn't do it -- we'd do it in a second -- but the offensive coaches are not going to agree to that.
"We don't get to do as much tackling as you think."
How little tackling occurs on the Clemson practice fields?
None in simulated game conditions, according to defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who lamented several missed opportunities for tackles for loss against Wofford.
"We don't tackle in practice," Thompson said. "We wrap up and stay off the ground. It just kind of (affects you) when you get in the game, because the whole practice, the whole week, you go through without taking a person to the ground."
Steele said missed tackles allowed Wofford to record an additional 145 yards of offense, but the Dillon native did not use the diminished practice time as an excuse for his team's missed tackles issues.
"Does all that have anything to do with the fact we tackled poorly in the first two games? No," Steele said. "We practiced by the same rules this year that we did last year, and we didn't miss those tackles."
Still, last year's defense was laden with veterans, players with two or three years of game and practice experience.
This year's defense is young, with six first-time starters.
Another issue leading to the deteriorating fundamentals is related to television highlights. Defenders leave their feet -- and fundamentals behind -- in an effort to create violent, must-see hits.
"Some of it is we have guys trying to make ESPN highlights," Steele said. "It's a technique issue."
Despite the NCAA limits on practice hours, Steele is confident he will get the missed tackles corrected. While he's unlikely to copy Majors and have one of his linebackers tackle guard Antoine McClain 38 times, Steele said he can tweak the practice schedule to allow more time for drilling, more time to rebuild confidence.
"If I went out there (Tuesday) and hurt Rashard Hall, Andre Branch, Brandon Thompson and Quandon Christian during live tackling drills … we'd have an issue," Steele said. "We just gotta get their confidence back, just like (a golfer) with a putter.
"Tackling is natural at this point. It should be."