By Will Vandervort
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney spoke with the media that cover the Atlantic Coast Conference earlier this week as he answered questions about playing the Virginia Cavaliers, bouncing back from the Florida State loss and his offensive struggles in the red zone.
Opening statement: I’m proud of the guys for bouncing back this past weekend and getting a good win and getting back on track around here. Another tough challenge this week going up to Virginia. It’s been quite a while since we’ve been up there. Good-looking football team, a lot of talent on this team, a lot of young talent. They’re really competing very hard. I know their schedule is not what they want, but make no mistake, this is a football team that I think is a lot closer than people think. Offensively I think they’re starting to come into form. Their quarterback is playing very well, coming off a really good game against Georgia Tech. Got good skill guys, really big in the offensive line and tight ends. Defensively very young but very talented. Got a couple of guys that just jump out at you on tape at linebacker, at safety, and the defensive line. So for us it’s just about trying to continue to find ways to win and approaching it as the biggest game of the year, and we’ve got an open date coming up next week, so try to do everything we can to really empty our tank and play our best game this weekend.
Q. Talk about Virginia; what have you seen in their video because I know they’re a couple plays from being over .500, so what have you seen?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, just kind of what you said. They’re very close. I mean, sometimes you’ve got to look beyond — everybody just says, oh, well, they’re 2 and whatever, and all of a sudden they’re not a good team, and that’s just not reality. We had in 2010 a team that I think we lost five games by less than six points. I mean, every game seemed like it was three points, and our guys competed their tails off. We just were in that process of learning how to win and growing some guys up and all that kind of stuff. I see a lot of similarities in this Virginia team. They’ve played a very difficult schedule. I think every team they’ve played has a winning record and is probably going to be a bowl team. So it’s just not like they haven’t played anybody. A lot of people rate their schedule as the toughest in the country at this point. They’ve just, I think, got a lot of youth. They’ve got 13 or 14 freshmen on defense. They’ve got a young quarterback who is really, really talented and getting better. But I think their future is very bright, and as you said, they’re just a few plays away. Nobody wants to hear that, but I think with a little patience this team is going to step up and be one of the surprise teams in the next year or so.
Q. I was reading the game notes this morning, and this is the last game until 2020 when you’re facing Virginia, so is that kind of weird with the scheduling the next couple years?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, that is kind of unusual. We played them here, I guess last time was in maybe ’09, I think. We played them up there in ’08, played them here in ’09. So playing them now, and yes, it’s kind of unusual to be that long. But I’ll tell you what, they’ve got a lot of young talent on this football team that I think over the next couple years they’ll be a real force in that side of the conference.
Q. Could you talk about the process of putting that Florida State game behind you, and was there any hangover, so to speak, going to Maryland last week?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, it’s just like anything, you come off an emotional win like we had against Georgia, and you’ve got to get ready for South Carolina State, and then you come off an emotional loss, same thing. Our mentality every week has just been, regardless, this is the biggest game of the year, whether you win or lose. I just believe that if your team takes on that mentality and you develop that type of culture in your program, then you’re going to be able to be consistent. If you don’t have that culture in your program, then you’re going to be up and down. You’re going to be a team that’s probably going to lose a couple you shouldn’t lose or whatever. I just think that our guys have done a great job of going back to work regardless of the win or a loss, and that’s the main reason that we’ve been able to be incredibly consistent over the last three years. I mean, I think we’re seventh in the country in wins over the last three years. And the reason for that is you move on to the next game. You can’t sit around and dwell or bask in a victory or dwell on a loss. You have to move on. It’s a season. You play 12 games, and every game is a season of its own, it’s four quarters of its own, and then you just try to find ways to win. I thought our guys did a tremendous job last week. We responded defensively, handled some adversity in the game. We had three turnovers, which is disappointing, but they got negative nine yards off of those three turnovers, so for your defense to go out there and respond like that is impressive. And then offensively scored 40 points and 550 yards, and first time in school history to have a 160-yard rusher and a 160-yard receiver. I would say they responded in a big way going to a place and beating a team that has a winning record and was undefeated at home. I was proud of them.
Q. If I might ask an unrelated follow-up, are you aware of the history with the two quarterbacks where Tajh has been something of a mentor for David Watford, that they went to rival high schools, et cetera?
DABO SWINNEY: Have not really talked to Tajh. I know he knows him because we actually talked about him yesterday. I was just telling him how impressed I was with him and his potential and his ability. But we didn’t have a long, detailed discussion about their background, but he said he knows him.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Watford, too. When you look at him on tape he’s a young quarterback playing for the first time. I think he threw 62 passes last week. Do you see development there? Do you see him growing into the role?
DABO SWINNEY: I really do. I mean, listen, he made some throws last week, I just kind of stopped the film and ran it back a couple times. He made a couple throws from the pocket, some deep comebacks from far hash to the field that were on time, were accurate and had great velocity. I mean, that is a big-time play, a couple of those throws that he made. And then he’s made some great throws coming out of the pocket on the move. They run a lot of boots and some roll-out type stuff, and he’s very accurate on the move. And then you see him take off and run, he can definitely do some things with the ball in his hand. I hadn’t really seen him to be honest with you very much until I really started studying Virginia, and man, he is a very talented young player that I think has a very bright future, and you can tell that they’re trying to bring him along. This time next year he’s going to be a lot better than he is now, and a lot of the people around him are going to be better. I think he’s one of those guys that everybody in this conference is going to take note of over the next couple years.
Q. Another guy that at least the last two weeks I’ve seen make some big-time catches was Tim Smith. He’s an older player, but he’s made a couple of dramatic catches the last two weeks.
DABO SWINNEY: He really has. In fact, that was one of the things we were talking defensively yesterday. He’s really become, 20, his number, he’s really become kind of the go-to guy, and you can tell that he’s confident, he’s kind of taken ownership of that position. He’s a return guy for them, as well, and I think he’s having a heck of a year for them. He has made some huge plays as of late.