NEW ORLEANS — Clemson co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott, along with quarterback Kelly Bryant, offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt, running back Travis Etienne and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, met with the media Friday in advance of the top-ranked Tigers’ College Football Playoff semifinal game against No. 4 Alabama at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.
Here are some of the highlights from Friday’s Sugar Bowl press conference:
Streeter’s message to Bryant. The spotlight and stakes of Monday’s Sugar Bowl semifinal will be bigger than any other game Kelly Bryant has played in this season. But that doesn’t mean Clemson’s starting quarterback needs to do anything differently.
That was the message to Bryant from Clemson quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter during a recent meeting.
“We sat down and were having a meeting, and one thing he told me is if you want to go from good to great, just continue to do what you did all year long,” Bryant said. “Just hearing that, it continued to remind myself, don’t do anything out of the ordinary. Just continue to be who you were throughout the course of the season, and we’ll get the job done.”
Bryant has been more than a capable replacement for Deshaun Watson in his first season as the Tigers’ signal-caller. The junior from Calhoun Falls, S.C., has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,678 yards and 13 touchdowns while rushing for 646 yards and 11 more scores.
What Bryant has done to this point, though, will be overshadowed by what happens in the playoff. Watson is remembered for his clutch performances on the biggest stages, and that’s how he built his legacy.
Bryant is excited for the chance to bring home another championship and leave his own mark on Clemson’s program.
“It’s something every kid that grows up watching football dreams about — playing in a semifinal game against a team like Alabama,” Bryant said. “I’m ready and I’m trying to embrace it and make the most of this opportunity.”
Renfrow’s funny Swinney story. Renfrow shared a funny story involving Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney that shows how Swinney is always teaching and developing young men, both on and off the field.
Swinney’s son Will, a freshman receiver at Clemson, called Renfrow one day for help fixing his car. The two then had to call Dabo, who discovered that Will had pumped diesel into the car. Dabo then proceeded to lecture Will for 30 minutes “like a receiver that dropped a pass” about why he shouldn’t have done that.
“A lot of people don’t believe that’s who he is, but he’s the same all the time,” Renfrow said of Dabo. “If you see him on a random Wednesday he will have the same energy level and love for his players.”
Alabama’s sights set on redemption. The revenge factor in the Sugar Bowl is real. You’ve heard it a million times already, but Alabama has its sights squarely set on redemption against Clemson after last season’s loss in the national title game.
“The whole team, it’s like a redemption game for us,” Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “It’s a great opportunity for us, and we’re going to take full advantage of it.”
Alabama doesn’t just simply want to beat Clemson. According to Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne, the Tide want to avenge last year’s loss in convincing fashion.
“I think we just want to dominate this game,” Payne said. “As a defense, set the tone real early and show the world what we can do.”
Pruitt wants no talk of Tennessee. Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who of course was named the new head coach at Tennessee, was asked how difficult it has been to balance the two roles ahead of the Sugar Bowl.
Pruitt quickly shut down the question, making it clear he wants no talk of Tennessee and only to focus on the Sugar Bowl.
“I’m excited to be the head coach at Tennessee, but right now I’m the defensive coordinator at Alabama and I just want to talk about this game,” Pruitt said.