Jan. 2, 2012
Clemson Orange Bowl Central | OrangeBowl.org
Smith Presents a Tough Challenge for Clemson Secondary
FT. LAUDERDALE, FL – When his Clemson defense faced gimmicky offenses in wins over Troy, Wofford and Auburn to start the season, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele felt relieved to finally face a pro-set opponent in Florida State. At the time, he even told the media he thought he was coaching in the Canadian Football League with all the crazy uniforms and the type of untraditional formations he was seeing week-after-week.
Well, if Steele thought those games gave his defense fits, he is in for a real treat when the 14th-ranked Tigers face No. 23 West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl on Wednesday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, FL.
“You know, the best way to describe it, for the person who doesn’t have to defend it, is it is in some way like playing in Canada,” Steele told the media from the Marriott Resort and Spa in Ft. Lauderdale, FL Monday. “There are 12 men and two guys in motion. That’s not the way we play American football, but it almost looks like that sometimes because it goes very fast.”
The Mountaineers (9-3) are fast. Led by quarterback Gino Smith, West Virginia is perhaps the best offensive unit Clemson has seen all season. By using screens to wide receivers and running backs and then going for the occasional home run, it is an offense that is averaging 35 points and 460 yards a game. Smith’s right arm is responsible for about 343 of those yards per outing.
“They’re spread out. They lead two open edges all the time,” Steele said. “There are football coaches that I’ve coached with that say you can’t play football and lead two open edges all the time and throw the football, but they do and they do it very effectively.
“I think the big thing is when you’ve got a quarterback that gets the ball out of his hand, is accurate with his throws and the route runners are quick, catch the ball on the run and then get yardage after the catch, it can be very effective. It’s been very effective for (Hal) Mumme, (Mike) Leach, those guys, and it’s a tough offense to defend. Now, hopefully for us, it’s harder to defend in a week than it is in 30 days, I’ll tell you that.”
That defending will start with Smith. Despite his less than impressive rushing numbers – minus-59 yards – the West Virginia quarterback does use his legs to hurt opposing defenses, but it is not to run. Instead, he extends plays when the pocket breaks down by moving laterally until someone comes open down field.
“He has the ability to scramble,” Steele said. “I’ve known him since he was in high school, so I know what he can do with his legs. But he’s more of an NFL style. He scrambles to throw. He’s going to look to throw it first, but as soon as I say that, he’ll scramble for 80 yards Wednesday night.”
And that will have Clemson’s defensive backs on their toes.
“He is going to make us work hard,” defensive back Xavier Brewer said. “Most of the time, you only have to cover a guy for three or four seconds, but with him, and the way he likes to keep plays going, we are looking at five or six seconds. Then considering their pace and the speed of their receivers, you can get tired.
“It’s going to be a challenge.”
Though Smith is capable of making big plays when he leaves the pocket, he is even more efficient in the Mountaineers’ quick passing game. For the season, he is completing 65 percent of his passes for 3,978 yards and 25 touchdowns.
“He does a great job at what we call catch and throw,” Steele said. “He’s got good field vision because when you’re in the gun all the time, people don’t realize when you’re underneath the center you’ve got your eyes down the field, so you take the snap and you’re seeing what’s there. You know there’s middle of the field coverage, your eyes are always downfield.
“But when you’re in the gun all the time, at some point in time you’ve got to watch the ball into your hands. It’s kind of hard to catch that ball because you kind of see it go around the clock in terms of where it’s at.
“He does a great job of getting the ball caught and getting his eyes on his reads and then getting the ball out very quick, and then he’s very accurate with his throws,” Steele continued. “He is very accurate with his throws.”
Children’s Hospital Visit: Several members of the Tiger team visited a local children’s hospital on Monday afternoon. Video and photos from the visit will be available on ClemsonTigers.com.
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