By Staff Report.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney held his weekly teleconference Wednesday with the ACC media.
COACH SWINNEY: Good to be with you guys today. Again, this is just a big, big game for us coming up versus Maryland. In terms of our goals, big game for both teams, obviously a division game, and this is a tough place to go play and a very capable football team, a team that has beaten Miami. They’ve got a couple tough losses, one to the 12th ranked team in the country and one to the 13th ranked team in the country. We’ve got another big challenge ahead of us this week getting ready for a very solid Maryland team.
Q. Can you talk about trying to prepare for Maryland’s offense given that they’ve got two quarterbacks playing now with two seems to be pretty different styles of play, the really mobile quarterback and then you’ve got kind of the pocket passer?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, it’s a challenge. It’s definitely a challenge, and obviously we hadn’t seen much of the other guy until Saturday. He’s the second leading rusher on the team after 11 carries, so he’s pretty impressive at what he can do.
They’ve actually run the zone read a bunch, I mean, a ton, even with O’Brien. But he just hasn’t run it as much as far as keeping the ball. You know, that’s definitely a challenge for us as far as, you know, having to prepare for both styles, but it is what it is, and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready.
Q. In watching film of Maryland, their defensive tackle Joe Vellano had just an outstanding game against Georgia Tech, was all over the field. I wondered what you thought of him, and how do you prepare for a guy who just looks like he tackles everything in sight?
COACH SWINNEY: It’s not — it’s a rare thing when you see a defensive tackle have 20 tackles. That’s really amazing. That’s just kind of epitomizes the kind of player that he is. He’s a high-motor, high-energy, aggressive, going-to-play-every-snap kind of guy. That’s what all those great ones have in common. They play every down, and he’s got a lot of ability, and he’s a guy that’s a challenge for us, kind of like our guy. Our guy is a load in there, as well, in Brandon Thompson. Again, the kind of game he had last week is one that as a D-tackle you would dream about. But we’ll have to play well up front, and our guys are getting better. I think that we probably played our best game Saturday up front, and hopefully we can continue that trend and make sure that we don’t have too many just one-on-ones with 72.
Q. I’m sure you addressed this yesterday, but are you expecting Tajh to be able to start on Saturday?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, he’s fine.
Q. Where is Chandler Catanzaro in his progress this year? Is he going to progress the way you like to see him this season?
COACH SWINNEY: Oh, yeah, shoot, he’s 14th in the country in kicking field goals. He’s having a great year, and he’s only missed two. I think he’s 9 of 11 or 10 of 12 on the year. 10 of 12, I think, so he’s having a heck of a year, and 80-something percent as far as his percentage goes. He obviously had a big game Saturday, kicked five field goals, which were all big kicks. He’s doing a good job for us, and I’m proud of him, especially to be honest with you, he’s got one of the best percentages ever at Clemson from 40 yards and out. That’s what’s been pretty amazing with him. So he’s been very accurate, and he’s also doing a little bit of kicking off now that Benton is hurt, and he’s having to be our backup punter. So we’re asking a lot of Catanzaro.
Q. Has it been — was it a matter of his improvement over last year a matter of confidence or some technique things.
COACH SWINNEY: I think it all goes — first of all, it starts with the snap, just having consistency with your snap and your hold, and we’ve got a good battery there that they’ve worked well together. He’s got a lot of confidence in Dawson holding and Spencer Benton, so he’s worked with those guys all spring. I think the biggest thing is last year he was a freshman, and it’s — it’s tough to be a freshman, especially when you don’t have some early success, and sometimes that ball gets rolling against you, and he was so different than anything else last year really with our team. We just didn’t have a good year, and he didn’t have a good freshman year, but what was encouraging with Catanzaro is when I saw him practice every day. He just wasn’t quite transferring it to the game field. The mental part of it is a big part of it, and I think he just grew, and he’s mentally tougher, and he certainly worked hard on his technique and timing and approach and all that stuff. But this is really what he’s done in practice since he’s gotten here. He’s just now kind of taking another step and transferring it to the game field. So hopefully he’ll continue to do that. I really believe he’s got a chance to be a very, very consistent kicker throughout his career.
Q. You said you thought that was the best game you guys have played all year last week. What made you think that?
COACH SWINNEY: It was the most complete game. That’s the closest we’ve been offensively, defensively, special teams, to really putting in all together. I mean, we were very, very close to being outstanding Saturday. We had some mistakes in all areas that we worked on, but just definitely the closest we’ve been to putting all three phases together, and that was encouraging to see.
Q. I was looking at the numbers nationally, how many true freshman have been seeing the field, and there’s some really prominent programs, including yours, that are in double-digit freshmen. I just wondered what’s going on with all that anyway? What do you make of it not only in your program but elsewhere?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I can’t really speak for other places, but I know what’s going on with us, and that is just — it’s just a product of when I got this job, and we didn’t have — obviously you get the job as an interim, your recruiting class is kind of shot, and I didn’t have a lot of time to go and recruit for the February of ’09 class, and so we only signed 12 guys that year. We just kind of pushed some scholarships forward, and then even — and then we spent the whole next year really signing our first true class February of ’10, and we didn’t sign a full class then, either. I think we signed 19, and we brought 19 in, but we had a few more spots. We pushed those scholarships forward, so we went out, but we — really what we were playing for is this February of ’11 signing class, and we signed a big class, brought in 27 new Clemson Tigers. Just from a numbers standpoint, we were going to have to have some guys step up and play. We didn’t necessarily need a lot of them to come in and start, but we were going to have to rely on a lot of these guys to provide depth for us as true freshmen, just because of the way our roster is set up. We’ve got 42 true freshmen and red shirt freshmen on our roster, and that’s just a product of how we’ve recruited and managed our numbers the last two years. That’s our deal. And I think that we’ve recruited the right kind of guys. We’ve done a good job, I think, of evaluating. You’ll miss on a guy here or there, but I think for the most part we’ve been very good, and these guys are as advertised, and they have opportunity, and so they’ve been able to come in here and help us. But we really didn’t have any other choice. We were going to have to rely on young depth, so for us, I think we’ve played 13 true freshmen and I think we’ve played 16 red shirt freshmen. We’ve had 29 freshmen suit up for us this year.
Q. Are kids generally maybe more ready to play than they were, say, 20 years ago coming in?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, you know, I think it’s all relative to the times. I mean, 20 years ago you didn’t have the emphasis on the strength and conditioning like you have now, but you didn’t have it in college, either. I mean, it was more, but not like it is now. So I think it’s all relative. Just, again, for us the last two years we didn’t play many freshmen. I think last year we played four, and my first year we played three as far as true freshmen goes. But we just had a huge need this year from a depth standpoint at some critical positions in the defensive line, linebacker, at receiver, at running back, even at quarterback for us. Our backup is a true freshman. I think it just depends on everybody’s roster, and then there may be some programs out there that maybe just missed on a bunch of guys, and from a talent standpoint, some of these guys were just better. But it just depends. Some guys are ready to go physically, and other guys aren’t. And then a lot of it is just opportunity, as well.