Dabo Swinney and No. 4 Clemson host rival South Carolina on Saturday night in Death Valley. Kickoff for the annual grudge match is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.
Here is the transcript of Swinney’s press conference on Tuesday as he previews the Gamecocks and talks about the history of the rivalry and what it means to him.
Opening Statement: “Happy Thanksgiving everyone. This week I hope everyone has a great week and get a chance to spend a little time with your families. I am very grateful for this team and the season that we have had at this point. We have really had an excellent season; these guys have worked incredibly hard.
“It is a tremendous amount of sacrifice, commitment, and dedication and work that goes into having a season like this. I am just really thankful for our staff and our team and everyone here at Clemson.
“There is the season, and then we have South Carolina. It kind of stands alone. That is why it is a goal listed all by itself on our goal board.
“This is a fun week. It is awesome to be a part of rivalry games. Regardless of where you are, whether you are Florida/Florida State, Alabama/Auburn, Clemson/South Carolina, Michigan/Ohio State, whatever, this is a special week because it means a lot to a lot of people.
“This is one that you live with all year. So, we are looking forward to competing against these guys. It’s the next goal for us. We were really happy that we were able to achieve our second goal, which is to win the division, and this is the next goal.
“We know we have a good team coming in here. Will (Muschamp) has done an excellent job ,he really has. They are very well coached. Their staff has done a great job in building some positive momentum and coming back from obviously a disappointing season last year.
“To come back have them bowl eligible, they are playing a lot of new guys, they have done a heck of a job.
“Offensively, since (Jake) Bentley took over they’re 4-1. He is obviously well-groomed to be a very successful college quarterback. His dad has coached him forever and is one of the best coaches we’ve had in the state, so he is very well prepared.
“He is a freshman, but he is not your typical freshman. He is very knowledgeable, he has a great understanding of what they’re doing offensively, and again it has just kind of settled them down and they have played very well since he took over.
“They have done a great job in the running game. Their backs are kid, big, strong. Dowdle is a young player, but he really has kind of the whole package for them. Turner is not quite as big, but he is fast. He has some dynamic ability to him. Again, it starts up front with their offensive line. I think they’re good up front.
“I think Bailey, number 78, is as good of an offensive lineman as we’ve seen. He is a great football player. He is as good as I’ve seen all year on tape. Big, strong, physical presence inside and again I think they are doing a good job schematically with the run-game and the play-action and the screen game mixed in. They are taking their shots when they present themselves. Very impressed with them.
“They have a very good tight end; two tight ends. They have Hayden Hurst who is the big guy, at 6’5”, 240-250, and runs really well. He has a lot of energy. I think he is an older, more mature kid and you can tell he really brings a lot of energy to their team.
“Crosby is another guy, he has about four touchdowns. They do a good job of mixing their tight-ends in.
“Deebo Samuel is a great player and so is Bryan Edwards. He has had a heck of a year for them as a freshman. I know Edwards very well. He is big, strong, one-on-one type of a target. They will do a good job taking one-on-one shots, tight shoulders, tight throws. He does a good job of high-pointing those type of balls. He has really gotten better and better as the year has gone on.
“They have done a nice job of pulling it together and again I think Bentley has really kind of helped them pull it all together and have the success that they’ve had.
“Defensively, there are several guys that we have seen from last year. Taylor Stallworth is a load inside. He is a very good player. Darius English, who we played against the last few years, has nine sacks and is a long and athletic kid.
“Donte Sawyer, has quick twitch, and is a good athlete. I am very impressed with their linebackers. Jonathan Walton is a really good football player. Bryson Allen-Williams is the thumper. T.J. Holloman has played quite a bit, he has played all three spots. They are a very good group at linebacker.
“And then secondary, they have a new kid at corner who I think is a very good player. He is fast. They do a nice job with their two safeties. The biggest thing defensively, obviously with Will background has always been defense. They are very well coached, they understand what they’re doing, and they have done a nice job positioning their guys to have a chance to be successful.
“From a coverage standpoint, they’re not just a one trick pony, they are going to present multiple things. They are going to give you some one safety, they’re going to play some two’s, some Tampa, they’re going to cloud, they are going to trigger those corners to spoil the run game. They are going to do a lot of things to kind of keep you off balance a little bit and play a little bit of four man and three man fronts as well so.
“They are very well coached, and again we know that we are going to have to play well. And again, they are good in special teams. Elliott Fry has been around there for 10 years it seems like. He is still there, a good kicker, strong leg.
“They have good returners so for us our focus is just trying to finish strong and trying to play the best four quarters of the season this week. That is really what we are locked in on and focused on.
“We are also excited to have another opportunity to play at home. We didn’t get the result that we wanted the last time that we played here (loss to Pittsburgh), so we are really looking forward to the opportunity.
“I am thankful that our seniors get another chance to play here at home, but this will be it, this will be their last opportunity. It is a night game, so I know it will be a great crowd, everybody will have a chance to digest all of that turkey that everybody’s going to eat on Thursday and get excited about coming in and having a great environment to play a college football game Saturday night.
On if it feels different or strange now that Coach Spurrier isn’t there…
“Well more-so last year, not really as much this year just because last year was very different. I’ve known Will for a long time. He was a young coach at Auburn while I was at Alabama, then he was at LSU. We have crossed paths over the years and I’ve always liked Will. I always thought he is a tremendous football coach.
On Deshaun’s game in 2014 with a torn ACL against South Carolina and where that ranks with other special Deshaun moments…
“It is right there at the top. That is how I started that press conference after the game. ‘You guys don’t understand what we just saw’. It was unbelievable.
“I just was really blown away the entire game and how he played, competed and performed. It was spectacular. He has had some unbelievable moments that guy.
“It just becomes – everybody’s expectations of him are so high, it’s like Michael Jordan, he shows up, he’s supposed to drop 45 on you. All of the sudden he gets 20, and the questions come up, ‘what’s wrong with Michael Jordan?’
“Deshaun has elevated himself here at Clemson and college football because he has had so many unbelievable moments, so many great plays, but that game right there was something special.
“Plus we hadn’t beaten those guys in so long (five straight losses). We had done a lot of great things around here, a lot of great success, but that was obviously a bad run for us in achieving that goal. We hadn’t done a great job with that goal and he was a freshman and that was a great moment and it got us back on track in the series.
On what Deshaun has learned about himself through the high standard he has set…
“Yeah, well I think he is better suited to answer that than I am, but I just think that you know, he just has learned what matters and what doesn’t matter, what to focus on and what not to focus on.
“You can learn a lot through success, but you can certainly learn a lot more through some failure. He has had enough of that along the way again to continue to grow. He is well prepared.
“Obviously the platform that he has had here at Clemson, the type of success that we have had has exposed him to a very high level of scrutiny, exposure, all that, and so I think he has learned how to balance, and stay true to who he is and not get distracted by things. That will be very important for him when he continues his career.
On what was learned from the game last year, when on paper, Clemson was obviously the better team…
“Yeah, well that’s why I always tell people we don’t play a game on paper. That is what Coach (Gene) Stallings used to tell us. If you play it on paper the coaches would show up, walk to the midfield, look at his x’s and o’s, and his x’s and o’s, and the crowd would ooh and aah, and the ref would declare a winner. That would be it.
“A game is not decided on paper. Yes, you can look at it and say okay well yes this appears to be the better team, but as we all know the best team does not always win. You have to play well. It is is the team that plays the best.
“That is what makes this game so exciting and so much fun, and then you throw in the fact that you have a rivalry game, and anything can happen. We all know that, I don’t think we learned that last year, I think everybody knows that. You get in games like this there is a lot that can happen, anybody can beat anybody. We have seen it a million times over the years.
On if the victory over South Carolina while being the interim coach (2008) was the deciding factor on getting the head coaching job or not…
“I don’t think there is any question about it. I remember first of all, getting ready to go to the hotel on Friday and President Edwards was literally wheeled out on a hospital bed to see the team off. It was unbelievable.
“I remember it was kind of a cold, kind of cloudy, seemed later than it was, type of a game, and I just remember the spirit of our team and how hard they played, their will to win.
“The crowd at the end of the game, was a special moment for me. It was no question, if we don’t win that game, I’m probably not here. I mean maybe. I mean Terry Don Phillips has some guts, but I don’t know if he had that kind of guts (laughter).
“But, it was unbelievable, and I am very thankful for that group of seniors because those guys really bought into how they wanted to finish. That’s what we control. It’s always about what’s next. The best is yet to come. Those guys did an unbelievable job and played their hearts out.
“We finished 4-2 those last six regular season games, and that was certainly the game that got us over the hump and it got us bowl eligible. We weren’t going to a bowl, so it gave us an opportunity, and it was huge for me, getting the job, because it gave us a bowl season to prep and get some things in place for spring practice and to give some of those young kids an opportunity to continue to kind of sew some seeds and develop our culture a little bit, even though it was a very chaotic situation all the way through January.
On how key the senior group has been to the team…
“I mean this is just an unbelievable group. It has been well documented what they have been able to do as they strive for a 46th win, which would tie the record for a senior class.
“These guys have finished. Ben Boulware since he came here has been on at least a top 10, top 5, top 15 team all the time. We’ve been the top five in the nation a long time (21 straight polls). They have been impactful in the community, impactful on this team.
“I mean look at the young players. You look at the impact that they’ve had, they have just been an incredibly talented and committed group and they are all going to be graduates. Some of them have already graduated. Most of them are all graduating next month.
We have a couple of our walk-ons that will graduate this spring as well. But all of our scholarship guys will be graduates. What they have done academically – the academic success that we have had six out of our last seven years we have been top 10 in the country.
“Last fall, the run that we had, we had 48 guys make a 3.0 or higher. This senior group was obviously a big part of that. The thing about this group that makes them so special, is they are the first group that has the experience coming back when you start in the spring. No other team that I’ve had has had an experience of a run like they had in 2015 to draw on.
“”A lot of people think we are this old team, but we are incredibly young. Our football team is the majority freshman and sophomores. We don’t have many juniors on scholarship, we don’t have many seniors on scholarship. We have 13 seniors on scholarship, that counts (Andy) Teasdall who came here as a walk on, that counts Seth Ryan who came here as a walk on. We just don’t have many, but they are impactful people, great leaders, who are incredibly committed to being the best they can be on an off the field, as players, academically, as leaders.
On importance of this game with recruiting in state…
“I think that this state is so similar to what I grew up in and coached in. What I was a part of, coached and played in for 13 years, this is my 14 year here, so what I’ve learned over the years is exactly what I knew when I was at Alabama, some places you walk in and I don’t care if you won the national championship, they aren’t happy to see you.
“Some places you walk in and you won five games, they’re happy to see you. That’s just the way it is because of the state and the culture that we have here, some of these kids that you’re going to love in the recruiting process and you evaluate, well they grew up South Carolina, that’s just hard to overcome.
“Or they grew up Clemson, it’s just hard to overcome. Unless you just have bad people involved, ultimately it comes down to the people you have in place. They have a bunch of good folks over there. Will has a good staff, so I don’t really think it matters as much as people think.
“We really don’t compete with South Carolina as much in state as people think. The reason is we are just so different. I mean you couldn’t have more differences in the programs, the locations, the environments, you name it, the conferences, whatever.
“Usually if a kid just loves South Carolina, well he probably isn’t going to like Clemson as much. We are very different in that regard from a recruiting standpoint. In state, most of them on rare occasions will you just turn a guy. The more recruiting that we do against each other will come out of state, you know kids that are interested in looking at both programs from out of state. But in state it is not as much as you would think.
“First of all we have a very small population as you all know, and then you throw in the academics, now the pool shrinks even more. There is more people in Atlanta than our whole state.
On status of Jalen Williams…
“It was his knee, I think it was something a little bit to do with the weather. He is back in practice. They were trying to change out his brace and all of that, but we ended up just pulling him out of the game the other night.
On if it is key to capitalize in the red zone and not allow for turnovers…
“Well that has been the key to us, that’s for sure. When we have done a great job in the red zone we’ve played well. It all goes back to turnovers for us, this season, there is no question. Last year it was big plays, this year it’s turnovers.
“When we’ve done a good job, one or less, it is unbelievable what we’ve been able to do (won by an average of 40 points per game). When we have had two or more, the dynamics are different so we have to take care of the ball.
On advantage of playing at home, prime time, against a young quarterback…
“Bentley is a mature kid, he has been around this state, he has been at Clemson many times. He is not going to be overwhelmed by that, he understands what he is getting into. Lamar Jackson had not been here, but shoot, I mean he had I thought his best performance of his year. We turned it over five times and he had 100 plays, but we had one more plan than they did. I thought he had a great game when he was here.
On what makes South Caroline so good at forcing turnovers on defense…
“They get after you first of all. They play hard up front, they are very well coached. They position their guys very well, they understand what the offenses are trying to do. They will scheme up your protections, they do a great job of route reading, and if you have tendencies they are going to know them and they position them well, and they mix their coverages.
“They are not a one trick pony. They are going to change it up as far as technique in the corners, depth in the corners, they are going to be a one safety team when there’s different ways to be a one safety team.
On how much Ben Boulware cares about this game…
“I think we have several guys, they all know, especially these seniors, they’ve been around here, they all understand. We have a bunch of kids on this team, you know Ben, Jadar (Johnson), Cordrea (Tankersley), Mike (Williams), a lot of these guys, they understand how important this game is. They really all do, even if they’re not from this state, because they live it. Even if you win it, you live that too and that is a lot better option, I can assure you.
On if the run game is something that wants to be seen more…
“Yeah, we want to run the ball every week. Against Pitt, it just wasn’t an option, that’s why we threw for 580 yards. Everybody wants to think we are just going to line up the run against nine man fronts, we haven’t seen anybody play us like Pitt played us, but 630 yards, and 580 yards passion, 70 percent completion, it was all built in to the run game.
“We are going to take what you give us and be very effective. We had a couple of turnovers and we didn’t do well on defense, and we got beat, but you know yeah, we want to run the ball a lot more but we are not going to beat our head against a well. How we play this week, totally different, completely different.
“They were going to try to run the ball on offense, shorten the game, and play very soft on defense and not give up big plays and force you to see if you can do it. You still have to do it, you still have to be able to win those matchups. That is what I was so encouraged about last week was we did a great job on our double teams, we did a much better job of getting our backs to the second level.
“I thought Wayne (Gallman) did a great job of winning his matchups, because when we do get you to that second level, and you know they’re spinning people down, you still got to beat a guy, and he did a great job of winning his one-on-one matchups. I thought Deshaun (Watson) did a great job in his decision standpoint in the run game. We also did a great job on the perimeter.
“Guys like Mike Williams, he did an outstanding job blocking on the perimeter. (Jordan) Leggett did an outstanding job out on the perimeter. It all goes together. We were very patient, we had to be based on the style of play. That is always what we are going to do. We are not trying to force a square peg in a round hole.
“We always want to run the football, but we have to go be able to do that and every week that’s where it starts, but then we have to respond to what is happening in the game. That is what makes us so dangerous is we can run the ball and we can throw the ball, we are not just a one dimensional team and we have proven that many, many times.
“I don’t think that is going to change as we move forward. Our ability to do both is critical to our overall success and our long-term goals.