By Trey McCurry.
Heading into Saturday’s critical matchup with a tough 4-1 Maryland team coming off an open date, Head Coach Dabo Swinney held his weekly press conference Tuesday.
“We are looking forward to the opportunity to get on the field and see if we can win a game. Maryland is playing with a lot of confidence and playing off a bye week. They are balanced on offense and have some talented players. Smith is one of the best wide receivers in the ACC. They have two very good backs. Scott has been around for a while and Meggett is tough to tackle. The biggest challenge is preparing for the quarterback situation. Robinson is back for them and creates a different element. They like to run the zone read and QB power. O’Brien is a good player and is playing smart for them. We feel like they will try and run the QB some with Robinson. For us, we have to be physical and stop the run. We need to force field goals in the red zone and be more opportunistic on defense. We either need to score of set up a score.”
“Defensively, they may be the biggest challenge we have faced. They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and are very multiple. Very seldom do they lineup where the end up. They do a good job of mixing their packages. Wujciak is a heck of a player at linebacker. He either makes the tackle or is right there on every play. He is just all over the field. Their two outside linebackers are athletic and their safeties look like linebackers. The biggest challenge is getting them all identified and getting hats on them. Another key is special teams. They lead the nation in punt returns and are averaging 27 yards per return.
One of the biggest things the Tigers are facing, for this week and the rest of the season, is how they respond to again being 2-3 on the season. Swinney addressed this point and more Tuesday morning. “We just need to find a way to win. We need to make sure guys continue to believe and get great leadership. We have to get everyone to stay committed to the little things. The encouraging thing is these guys have a real determined spirit. They were here yesterday morning at 6:30 and were anxious to get here, get started, and it carried out to the practice field. We have plenty of leaders on this team. We have several seniors, a lot of juniors, and third-year sophomores who are highly invested in this and want to lead. Hairston, Gilchrist, Wade, Parker, Branch, Bowers are just some of the guys who are standing up and challenging each other.”
Another point of the press conference was just to see how frustrating this year has been so far. “It is frustrating because I know the character and talent of our team,” said Swinney. “I know how hard they have work and I want them to taste the success. It’s about the players. I want the same things for our fans. I know we are on the right track and are doing the right things. We need to keep at it and eventually we will break through. We stop one thing and then there is a leak over there. This team is in a position to win every week and we will keep at it.”
Another issue, especially among the fans, has been the rotation in the backfield between Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper. One of the key questions was is there a number of touches that the coaching staff would like for Ellington to get each game. “He needs to touch the ball more, but there is no number. Right now, Ellington is playing well and he needs to get more touches. Harper has helped us win ball games, and hopefully he will respond in the right way. He knows he hasn’t been as productive as he can, but will we continue to give him some opportunities and he will respond in a positive way. Right now, Ellington is just more explosive and he has earned it.
Closing, Coach Swinney mentioned a name of a player that has really stood out to him this season, but that fans have really not heard much of this season since the end of fall camp. “Richard Jackson will be a captain this week. I have been very proud of him. He has been very encouraging of Catman. He has been very supportive since the very start of camp and has been an outstanding lead. He is not giving up on anything. I have been really proud of him. He is just preparing for his next opportunity, whatever that may be. That is how winners respond and that is what you do in life.”
Clemson looks to get back on track against a recent nemesis for the Tigers. Maryland has won the past two games in the series, and the Terps are 6-3 in the past nine meetings (all under Friedgen) against the Tigers including two straight wins in Death Valley. Prior to Friedgen’s arrival, the Tigers had won eight straight in the series and 13 of the last 14 meetings. Overall, five of the last six games have been decided by four points or less.