Red-zone defense is on attack to improve

Red-zone offense looks to balance its run-pass effectiveness

pstrelow@thestate.comOctober 1, 2009 

CLEMSON - As the drum continues banging regarding Clemson's need to boost its red-zone offense, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele suggests his red-zone defense has room to improve as well.

On one hand, the Tigers have allowed the fewest trips inside their 20-yard-line in the ACC (eight) and rank third in the conference in percentage of touchdowns allowed per trips (37.5 percent). That is behind Virginia Tech (23.5) and Boston College (30.0), which Clemson propped up by settling for four short field goals in their meeting.

On the other hand, the Tigers have only produced one stop in four situations where the opponent was trying to score a touchdown, forcing Georgia Tech to go for a game-tying fourth quarter field goal.

Otherwise, Middle Tennessee, Boston College and TCU each registered a touchdown in their red-zone trips.

"We have to get better at red-zone defense, that's obvious," Steele said.

"But we have to get better with some calls, too. We have to mix up some things better. At the time we were there, we were in a low-scoring deal both times (excluding MTSU), so we tried to pressure to create some change-the-game moment."

Staying in the zone. While Clemson's offense notched its first rushing touchdown last week, the chicken-or-egg dilemma lingers in the red zone.

Thirteen of its 22 non-scoring, designed runs have gone for 1 yard or less, oftentimes pushing the Tigers into must-pass situations that have proved just as fruitless. Quarterback Kyle Parker has completed 3 of 13 passes in the red zone, with one of the completions being tight end Dwayne Allen's 9-yard score at Georgia Tech.

Offensive coordinator Billy Napier said he thinks showing a willingness to open up the passing game on early downs will unplug the running game.

"Some of those (runs) are probably on me and understanding that the field has gotten smaller down there and they can be riskier in their calls, those kinds of things," Napier said.

"But I do think you've still got to try to run it down there if you can. We took some shots last week, which helped us. We proved to be capable of getting it down there. Now I think it's just a matter of guys making plays when we do take those shots and they're open."

Terps tidbits. Maryland is expected to be without All-ACC punter Travis Baltz, who sustained an injury to his non-kicking foot last weekend and is out for two weeks, coach Ralph Friedgen said. His replacement is slated to be placekicker Nick Ferrara, who logged punts of 24, 35 and 42 yards against Rutgers.

Clemson expects Maryland to rely on its standard power running approach - but with whom is the question.

Junior tailback Da'Rel Scott, a first-team All-ACC pick last season, has fumbled three times in the past two games and been benched during both as a result. Friedgen said Scott is "hurting," but his backup, Davin Meggett, is averaging 3.1 yards per carry.

The Terps have committed nine turnovers in consecutive home losses to Middle Tennessee and Rutgers.

Injury update. Junior left tackle Chris Hairston (sprained MCL) has participated in team drills the past two days, increasing the likelihood he could see action Saturday. "If we played today, he probably wouldn't play a whole lot, but there's a good chance for Saturday," Swinney said. Second-string defensive tackle Miguel Chavis was also limited with spasms, Swinney said, but should play.

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