Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney held his Sunday teleconference where he discussed Saturday night’s win over Maryland and more.
That was definitely a crazy game that we just had last night. The bottom line is winning and we found a way to win the game in a tough situation so from that standpoint it is really a great win. I am really proud of our team, the leadership of our team and just the resolve that we showed. Getting down 18 not once but twice. A lot of things we have to get better at.
Defensively it was definitely our worst game of the year. Obviously the quarterback really created some problems for us. Part of it was just some preparation things. We obviously didn’t have a lot of film on him and what they may do with him. I tell you what I give Maryland a ton of credit. They had an outstanding plan and really executed it very, very well. They had 80 yards on seven quarterback scrambles where we just didn’t do a good job with our rush lanes and they ran a little bit of the zone read where they blocked the end and read our tackle which is something that is really different. And the tight end screen they got us on twice. Those were probably the three biggest things defensively. All those things are things that we can correct and we will get a ton out of this tape. This will be some really good teachable opportunities.
Offensively outside of the difficult start that we had there we really played well. I mean really played well. Our offensive line took the game over. Andre Ellington just a huge game. Tajh definitely played poor early but finished great and made some bigtime throws. Sammy Watkins, we had six different receivers catch passes. All those guys made plays. A lot of guys are making contributions. Dwayne Allen again I like how we are spreading the ball around and I thought again it was good to see Tajh – obviously some critical mistakes early but he recovered and hit 11 out of his last 12. From that standpoint hopefully he grew even more from a game like that. The guys just gained a lot of confidence that we can find ways to win. Sometimes it is the defense having to hold people like up at Virginia Tech and this week it was the offense having to go out and score.
The biggest problem was we got ourselves in a hole right out of the gate with 14 points with just self inflicted wounds. We have to learn from that. I think that gave them a lot of energy and a lot of momentum and we were playing catchup from that point until we caught them late in the third quarter. When we pulled to within three I felt like we were going to have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.
The big difference in the game was our special teams. Our kickoff returns were outstanding. I have been waiting for them to have a breakout game. The guys did a great job of blocking and Sammy was tremendous in that regard too.
Again a good game but we have a lot to learn from it.
No major injuries but we have several guys just kind of banged up. We will give them time to heal up the next couple of days and we have a quick turnaround to get ready for a very physical North Carolina team that beat us last year so we just have to keep moving forward.
Q. In your experience how does this one rank?
I have not been a part of many games like that, especially with my background. We had one at LSU. I believe it was 98 maybe. We were down 15 or 16 late and we scored a couple of touchdowns with about two minutes left to go in the game to win that game. That is one I will never forget but this right here, again I don’t remember being part of many games and giving up that many points and still finding a way to win so that was an unusual part. And to be down 18 twice and to overcome it shows a lot of heart on our team.
Q. Several times this year you have talked about the critics that keep waiting for Clemson to collapse. Do you think you are finally beginning to put that to bed?
The players are. These players they play the game and they are about the right things. We have great leadership and these guys have refused to buy into things that have nothing to do with how they play the game. They have been focused on preparation and the mentality you have to have to be successful. They just believe they can win. They think they are a very good team. When you are dealing with young people that mental side of it is a big part of it.
Q. What was the issue on defense?
Well like I said they had 80 yards on seven quarterback scrambles. Again we didn’t do a good job with our rush lanes. We missed a few tackles. We had him setup for tackles for loss a couple of times and we don’t finish the play. They did a really good job with the zone tackle read. That was a good scheme. That was a key thing that we eventually got adjusted to. There were some issues there and then the tight end screen. They had two huge tight end screens, one of them was a missed call. The tight end was across the line a couple of yards and they are blocking down field so that is one that we will send in for them to review. Those were the main things right there that hurt us. Again all things that are correctable, but the biggest problem was we spotted them points right out of the gate and really just threw gasoline on the flame and made it a bonfire and it was just a tough nights work from that point on.
Q. Concern for kickoff’s being short?
No, I thought the kickoffs – they caught one on the six, the two, the one, the 16, the seven, the eight, the 15 and actually the shortest kicks we had were probably our best coverage ones. We had a little bit of wind and it is what it is. We have to go cover. We have done a pretty good job with that all year.
Last night I was not pleased with our punt coverage. I didn’t think we did a good job from a punt coverage standpoint.
Q. Do you think you have found the right unit on the offensive line?
Yeah I think we are starting our best five right now. David Smith and Mason Cloy are two guys that have played a ton of football that deserve to play and will continue to play. But where we are right now based on what we have seen on film we are starting what we think are the best five. Again that doesn’t mean we don’t have other guys deserving to play.
Q. Do you have a theory on Tajh’s poor starts on the road?
No I don’t have a theory other than he made a couple of mistakes early and he didn’t do a good job of moving past them. In both of those games – it is not how you start it is how you finish. I would rather him start slow and finish great than to start fast and finish really slow. I am just glad he was able to finish strong. 26-38 with four touchdowns is a pretty big night on the road.
Q. How critical was Breeland’s interception?
Well that was certainly the spark in the second half. It gave us a chance to get the momentum back. It was just a huge play in the game for us. It setup a score and we got points off the turnover which is always big. He actually caught the ball kind of one handed too. That is another thing that we are having defensively. I think we have seven different guys with an interception. A lot of guys are growing up before our eyes. You look at Breeland, Darius and Martin Jenkins. Some of those young guys are playing a ton of snaps and hopefully that will give Breeland a lot of confidence as he gets into the second half of the season cause we need him to be a great player for us.
Q. Did you have a good crowd at the WestZone when you arrived?
It is amazing that people will be up at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning. I left here about 4. It is just amazing to see that kind of crowd. These people are enjoying it and they should. We have a good football team that doesn’t quit. Whether it is good or bad they keep playing. We are 7-0 and we found a way to win every game. It is good to see our fans be excited like that.
Q. Have you ever been around a freshman that has had the kind of impact that Watkins has had and is it too late for the Heisman campaign?
No Heisman campaign. I have been around some really good freshman. We had a guy named David Palmer when I was playing at Alabama. He was pretty special. We were different offensively than we are now. We were an I formation type of team but he impacted our team in a similar fashion because he got the ball a lot of different ways. I have been around a lot of good freshman but this guy is one of a kind. He is the best I have been around from a freshman standpoint as far as the whole package. There are a log of other freshman on our team that are probably just as talented but just the whole package and the maturity is just uncommon.