Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney held a press conference in Bank of America Stadium Friday afternoon as he previewed the ACC Championship Game.
COACH SWINNEY: Well, it’s good to be here in Charlotte with everybody. As I told our folks back home on Tuesday, when you’re having a press conference this week, it’s a good thing. You want to have an opportunity to compete in games like this, and for us this is what it’s all about. You start the season ‑‑ I think we started August 4th, and this was our goal, to be in this game. In fact, one year ago, we were up here in the Bowl game, and that’s one of the things I told the team is, listen, our goal is to be back in Charlotte but to be competing for the ACC Championship.
It’s a privilege to represent the Atlantic Division. It’s been a hard‑fought season by all the teams in this conference. Virginia Tech is an incredible opponent. They’ve obviously kind of set the standard for this conference over the last several years, so it’s a privilege to have a chance to compete with them for the overall title and a chance to go to the Discover Orange Bowl.
With that, I’ll take whatever questions you have.
Q. Just your comments on sort of the firestorm that was started last night. Twitter exploded after your comments aboutSouth Carolina, and despite the fact that the rivalry game is a week old and you’re playing for the ACC Championship, it sent ripples through the state last night.
COACH SWINNEY: I really don’t have any comment. You know, it is what it is. You know, I think that ‑‑ like I heard today that it supposedly wasn’t said, and that’s great. It’s awful convenient on Thursday. I know this, that if my media put something out that I said and if it was nationally perceived that I said it, I promise you, I would correct it. I would make sure that it was
made known that ‑‑ especially something that is derogatory that I wouldn’t want my name attached to, I would make sure that it was clear, or I’d pick up the phone and I’d call and say, hey, there’s something out there that people are saying I said and I didn’t say it. That’s really all there is to it.
I said that last night. I don’t know if he said it or not, but there certainly hasn’t been any rebuttal. But that’s it on that. We’ll talk about the ballgame.
Q. I saw that Phillip Price was listed as probable. I was wondering how he looked at practice and how confident you are in him right now.
COACH SWINNEY: Well, he’s looked actually very well in practice, and he didn’t get a lot of good on good last week. Most of his work last week was versus the scout look guys. We just ‑‑ he got in the game and Coach Caldwell just didn’t feel good about the way he was reacting, especially with kind of the early start that we had as far as how he performed, and just didn’t like the match‑up. So we felt like we needed to go in a different direction.
But he’s come back this week and he’s had a really good week, and he’s gone full speed pass rush and inside and all that kind of stuff. I feel much better about him, but he’s got to go and compete and play four quarters tomorrow night.
Q. Are there certain things that you feel that you have corrected? You’ve lost three out of four. Are there certain things you’ve worked on in particular to correct, where there are common threads in those games?
COACH SWINNEY: Oh, yeah, we’ve worked every single day. But it’s a game of execution and performance, and we’ve had a hard time getting 11 guys to pull the rope in the same direction every play. That’s what it takes to win and to consistently win.
You know, the biggest thing for us, and I’ve said it many times, the last four games we’ve had 12 turnovers, and we’ve created zero in the
last three. I think we’re minus 10 in turnover margin, and before that kind of slide came, I think we were plus 9. So you’re talking about a drastic, drastic change in that category.
There’s always things to improve upon, but until that’s corrected, you’re just sledding uphill. So that’s been the biggest things. We were 8 and 0, we had six turnovers, because it just leads to other things. People start pressing, they start playing outside the system, they start doing things they shouldn’t do. It kind of takes the air out of this side of the ball, and it just kind of ‑‑ and it creates energy for the opponent, and it creates opportunities, hurts you in field position, and on and on and on, just like up there in rally. We played on a 100‑yard field and they played on a 20‑yard field for a good bit of that game. And that’s tough when you’re playing good people. So that’s the biggest thing for us is just playing smart football.
I’m proud of our guys. They’ve had a good season, and we’ve got a chance to have a great season with four great quarters tomorrow night.
Q. You figure that Virginia Tech probably is going to make some adjustments from what happened when you played them up there. What do you do? Are you going to try and do the same thing that was successful for you back inBlacksburgor are you going to adjust to what they’re going to adjust to?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, it’s the 13th game. They are who they are and we are who we are. I don’t know if anybody is going to trick anybody in this ballgame. This is a game of execution, making the fewest mistakes, winning the physical match‑ups. You know, they’ve done a really good job, and they’ve continued to do basically the same things. They’ve got a few changes here and there just like we do, but I don’t think either team will surprise each other as far as getting out of their personality of who they are. It’s just to win a championship game, you have to execute high level, you’ve got to win physically and you have to make the fewest mistakes.
Q. What concerns you more,LoganThomas as a passer orLoganThomas as a runner?
COACH SWINNEY: Whew, well, he’s pretty good at both. Coming into our first game, I would have said as a runner just because coming into that game he had ‑‑ I think he had thrown four touchdowns and maybe had four interceptions.
But since that game, he’s thrown 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. And he’s running quarterback sneaks for 12 yards. He has really gained a lot of confidence. He’s been the real key for their football team. They’ve done a great job in using him effectively in the running game. He’s taken ‑‑ you can see how his confidence has grown. They’ve done a few things different in the passing game, but he has really become an accurate thrower, and he’s gotten just a lot more confident. He’s got a big arm, got a big, big arm, so he’s a problem for anybody that’s playing him, there’s no question.
Q. Last Saturday I asked you about sort of hitting that reset button. Have you seen the ability of your players to maybe do that a little bit this week and push that stuff out of their mind and focus on this championship?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, and that’s what you have to do. Really, that’s the way it’s got to be every week. If we go 8 and 0, that doesn’t mean we lose the 9th game and if we lose two in a row that doesn’t mean we lose three. You just have to move on and get ready for the next game. It’s always about the next game or the next season. That’s the only thing that you have any control over at this point. So sitting around worrying about it is irrelevant.
Now, certainly you learn from it and you watch the film and you try ‑‑ you’re always trying to grow and get better. But for us our big thing was, listen, the regular season is over, you play all year to earn a right to get to postseason, and we’re one of two teams still standing in our conference, and we have an opportunity to play for the overall championship, and these guys have earned that. I wish we were 12 and 0 coming into this; we’re not. Can’t do anything about that. All we can do anything about is how we play tomorrow night.
Q. You were asked about Thomas’ arms and legs, but maybe the biggest thing with him since you’ve played him, and may be the best defensive game you guys played all year, where is his confidence and does that concern you because he obviously looks like a totally different guy, not only confidence but from a poise standpoint?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, and that’s kind of what I was alluding to earlier. His confidence was grown tremendously in all areas of his game,
running the football, making the right decisions in that part of the game. But throwing the ball with so much more confidence, throwing the ball very accurately, whether it’s throws in the quick game, throws on the move or taking the shots down the field. I mean, he’s got a lot of confidence, and it really, really shows.
He’s playing at a high level. All those guys are. They’re playing at a high level and clicking on all cylinders coming into the postseason.
Q. To the extent that adjustments therefore may have to be based on a guy who thinks differently as opposed to taking the blind side sack last time, is that kind of how the mindset has to be from your defensive standpoint?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, we’ve got to just do our jobs. We’ve got guys that are supposed to play gaps and they’ve got to do that, and we’ve got to have rush lane integrity with a quarterback like this. We can’t have missed assignments, guys lining up wrong. We’ve got to really be accountable to each other, and again, have 11 guys pulling the rope in the same direction every single play because if you don’t, you give up a big play. We’ve got to try to minimize that.
Q. Can you talk about David Wilson, the running back for them? I know you guys have struggled to stop the run a little bit recently, and certainly he seems like he would be a very dangerous player tomorrow night.
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, I think he had 120 yards or so on us the first time. He’s as good a player as there is in the country. I mean, he’s probably ‑‑ I don’t know how much he’s talked about nationally from a media standpoint, but he is a great football player, very, very dangerous in all aspects, tough, hard‑nosed runner, and he’s got speed. His 1,500, 1,600 yards rushing is a tremendous accomplishment for him. He’s a guy we’ve got to do a good job on to have a chance to win.
Q. Tech was one of the few teams to slow Sammy back in the first game, but you guys really used Dwayne effectively in that game. Can you talk about what he brings to your offense?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, Dwayne? Dwayne is a match‑up problem for people. I mean, he’s a guy that you’ve got to know where he is from a defensive standpoint. He’s almost 6’4″, 255
pounds and can run and jump and handle the ball like a wide out. So he’s the kind of guy you want on your side of the ball, that’s for sure. And we made some plays in the passing game, and to have a chance to beat Virginia Tech you have to do that. They’re built to stop the run, and you have to make some plays in the passing game, and we made just enough plays to get it done the first time we played them, and it’ll take that and probably a little bit more this time.
Q. Talking aboutLoganThomas having confidence, Tajh Boyd, when the slide started it was maybe because he had too much confidence or was forcing throws. Where would you put his confidence level this week in practice and in his preparation and kind of where he stands right now facing this challenge?
COACH SWINNEY: He’s been very focused. I like how he’s been in that film room all week. He’s been over there on his own a bunch. I mean, he’s ‑‑ Tajh is a winner. He’s not lost many games, ever, and so he doesn’t like losing. You know, he realizes that he’s got to play better and he has to do his part, as everyone else does, coaches, everybody.
You know, I’ve been very pleased with his execution all week long, and I was confident in how he was last week. He practiced well last week. But he’s excited about having an opportunity to play for a championship, and again, all these guys are. This is what they do it for. This is what they ‑‑ everybody wants to be undefeated, and there’s probably not going to be many of those teams in the country when it’s all said and done, never is, but when this is what you do, and they’re lifting weights and they’re working at 5:30 in the morning and they’ve got ‑‑ when nobody is watching, they’re grinding. This is what they do it for, and so they always realize that. There’s no practice Monday, there’s no game next week. This is it. Next time we get together, it’ll be down the road a little bit before we play a game. Everybody is focused and committed and has a real sense of urgency to try to play their best game.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the game being here inCharlotteand if you think it should stay and kind of what the pros and cons are for you?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I think that from our perspective it’s great being here in Charlotte because we have a huge fan base, and I’m sure it’s going to be a great atmosphere tomorrow night, be a ton of Clemson folks. It’s not a burden to be able to get here from a travel standpoint, and I think that’s awesome, and I think this city does a tremendous job. They take a lot of pride in all their events up here. I’ve been up here for a few events, including the Bowl game last year, and they do a great job from a hospitality standpoint and just organization and all that.
I think it’s a great spot. Where it goes from here, I don’t know. It’s really not my decision. But we’re just happy to be a part of it.
Q. A close game could be decided by special teams play, and it seems like special teams for the Tigers have been pretty good all season long really. Can you talk about the combination of guys that you’ve got working with Benton being back and then Dawson and of courseChandler?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, that’s another real key to have a chance to beat Virginia Tech; you’d better be sound in special teams. And we did a pretty good job up there, and we’ve done a decent job all year. We did give up a couple big punt returns this year, which is very disappointing, and that hurt us down this last three or four‑game stretch.
But Dawson has punted the ball well and punted the ball well last week, Catanzaro is going from a guy that couldn’t hardly make one last year to a guy that has made Second‑Team All‑ACC and has had a great year for us. We’ve got to cover very, very well because they’ve got dangerous return men, and when we have an opportunity to put one through the pipes, you have to make it. Points are at a premium when you play Virginia Tech because they’re a tough team to score against. So we’ve got to make our opportunities and you have to create field position in the punting game, and that’s one of the things we talk about is let’s end every offensive possession with a kick, whether it’s a punt or an extra point or a field goal, and we’ll have a chance to be successful, keep our defense out there playing on a long field.
But special teams is going to be a big part of this game. There’s no doubt about it. We’ve got to continue to play well.
Q. Are you amazed at what Sammy has done as a freshman for you guys, and do you sense that maybe he’s a little extra motivated this time around since he kind of had a quiet game inBlacksburgthe first time around?
COACH SWINNEY: Yes, I am amazed at what he’s done as a freshman. I knew he was going to be a very, very good player. I watched him in camp and just couldn’t believe what I was seeing in camp every single practice, the consistency, the knowledge, the ability to absorb installation, technique, toughness, just incredible what I saw in camp. So I wasn’t surprised that he had a great year. But I am amazed at just to what level he was able to perform at all year long. He did not play well last week, and he’s got to play well for us to be the type of offense that we need to be. He’s got to make ‑‑ and all of them, not just him, but we’ve got to make the plays that present themselves, and he’s anxious to get back out and play on this stage, and he’s been dialed in all week long. I look forward to it. I’m proud of him, though. I guess he’s got an award hopefully that he’s going to win. I don’t know if that’s common knowledge or not. But anyway, he’s ‑‑ is that common knowledge? Okay. I don’t want Michael Kelly back there throwing things at me. But I’m proud of him for being Rookie of the Year, and he certainly has earned that.