By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- With Clemson’s ACC opener in only two days, Head Coach Dabo Swinney believes that although his team is a little banged up after playing a physical Auburn team last weekend that they have prepared well and are ready to go toe to toe with the Florida State Seminoles, the reigning Atlantic Division Champions.
“We’re a little banged up after last weekend,” Swinney said. “David Smith has practiced all week and has gotten better each day, still has some soreness but that’s to be expected, but he’ll be available on Saturday to play. Same with Cloy, he’s a little beat up but will be available. Brandon Thomas will get the start for us; they’ll both be ready to step in when needed. Ellington looks like he’s going to be a go this weekend, all of those guys that were a little dinged up the other day will be ready to go. The only person that is questionable for Saturday is DJ Howard who tweaked his hamstring in Tuesday’s practice. We’ve been doing everything we can to get him ready to play Saturday, but I’m not 100% sure with him right now.”
Howard according to Swinney is the only player whose status remains questionable for Clemson’s matchup against their ACC rivals.
After an inconsistent performance against the Auburn Tigers last weekend, Swinney feels like safety Rashard Hall will be back to his old self against the Seminoles after a great week of practice.
“He didn’t play well last week,” Swinney said. “He’s had a good week of practice, just like you think he would. Rashard takes a lot of pride in his performance, is very conscientious, he was just out of position a few times on Saturday. But he’s the type of guy you don’t have to say a lot to. He just didn’t trust his eyes or technique like he needed to against Auburn and was out of position. He’s a very smart player though and he’ll bounce back.”
Overall Swinney has been pleased with the energy and physicality of his Tigers this week in preparation for one of their most important games of the season.
“It’s been a good week,” Swinney said. “This whole group isn’t a hard group to get to practice; we’ve had very few days where we haven’t been able to get them to give us what we need during practice. They realize the urgency we need to have. This is Florida State, a team that a lot of people picked to win the National Championship. To be honest with you it was very easy to get our guys to sober up after the Auburn win by turning this film on. They’re a team that can play; this will be our toughest challenge so far.”
Swinney and his coaches’ staff have continued to preach to their players to remain focused on the task at hand and not to look past a team but to prepare for each game as it’s a championship game.
“We’ve preached to them to stay focused on the process that we have of preparation, and taking it one day at a time,” Swinney said. “We just have to try to keep getting better each day as a team because we have not played a complete game. We have yet to play four quarters of good defense, we’ve had good halves, but we haven’t put it together as a team yet. That’s our goal to go out there and play our best game and if it isn’t good enough than it isn’t good enough.”
The difference between this year’s football team and years past in Swinney’s eyes is the belief that his players have in themselves, their teammates and coaches.
“They’re confident, and that’s part of the process of trying to get this program where we want to go.” Swinney said. “You have to believe that something different is going to happen other than what people tell you has happened 20 years ago. I wasn’t here 20 years ago and neither were these guys. This is our team, it’s 2011. This team is focused on the right things, trying to improve as a player and know their jobs so that they can do their jobs and stay committed to the standards we’ve set.”
Swinney talks to his players a lot about not getting caught up in the moment or focusing on what “They” say about Clemson’s program.
“I talk to the players a lot about what “They” say,” Swinney said. “These players determine what’s going to happen not “They”. They’ve got to make the decision about how it’s going to be, that’s the decision my players have to make.”
This particular game versus Florida State is one that Swinney knows will be won in the trenches. If his players don’t win the battle up front on both sides of the ball, Swinney knows that his team will be in for a long day.
“There’s no doubt a game like this, if you don’t win up front it’s going to be a long day,” Swinney said. “It’s also a game that could come down to special teams like it did last year when there was pretty much a draw of wins and losses on both teams’ offense and defense. They’ve got us in special teams though as far as kicks and that could be the difference.”
One way that Swinney has kept his players grounded, after all of the awards and national media attention they’ve received after their upset of Auburn last weekend, is by bringing a lightening rod to practice.
“I brought one of those old lightning rods that you put up on a roof to practice today,” Swinney said. “I stuck it down to the ground and told the players that’s what I mean when I say stay grounded. It’s about team, stay humble and stay hungry. When everyone’s patting you on the back for this or that, I’d like to hear you talk about your teammates, thank your coaches and fans, offensive linemen, and defense, it’s not about the individual, and it’s about team. That was one of our points from today. Stay focused, stay humble stay hungry. “
Although some people have Clemson on the radar now as an up and coming team because of their success against Auburn last weekend, according to Swinney his team hasn’t arrived yet.
“We haven’t done a dag gum thing,” Swinney said. “Some people may have us on the radar but we’re a UFO, an Unidentified Flying Object, we’re nameless.”
It’s been 10 years since the Seminoles have won in Death Valley, but to Swinney this fact is irrelevant.
“That’s irrelevant,” Swinney said. “Just like how many times have we beaten South Carolina in the last 20 years? It’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. None of that stuff matters; it’s about today and this team. I’m sure they’re going to be told that, but it has nothing to do with the game. It has to do with the players performing and executing and we’re just focusing on our plan to win, and executing that plan.”