Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney met with the media that cover the Atlantic Coast Conference earlier this week as he fielded questions about next Thursday’s opponent, Georgia Tech as well as questions about how pleased he is with where his program is right now.
Opening statement: It’s good to be with you today. Coming off a really good win for us, another road win. I’m proud of our team. Back-to-back solid wins on the road. We probably played our best game this past week, just really complete performance, all three phases. There were a lot of good things in the game. The open date is not really an open date for us. We don’t play this weekend, but with a Thursday night game, we have to practice this weekend. But the timing is good because we do get a little extra time to get some guys healed up. The guys were off Monday. We practiced yesterday and today and tomorrow. And then we’ll have kind of a normal game week starting on Saturday. It will be like a Monday for us. But I like where our team is. I wanted to get off to a good start in November. We did that. We have another huge challenge coming up with Georgia Tech, our cross-rival and always a very, very difficult game. And we’re excited about getting back home in the Valley and playing on Thursday night, which is something that I’ve never been a part of since I’ve been here at Clemson. I’m looking forward to that. This is a really good football team in Georgia Tech that we’re preparing for and we’re going to have to continue the trend of playing really good, sound football, to have a chance to beat these guys. I’m very impressed with what they’re doing defensively. Up front, offensively you know you have your hands full when you play Georgia Tech. There has to be great discipline. Everybody has to do their job, have your eyes on the right thing; if not, it’s a big play. So it’s a big challenge for our team and we’re looking forward to getting back on the field next Thursday.
Q. You said this week is not like a bye week, you’ve got to get ready for Georgia Tech next week Thursday night. What do you guys have to do this week to get yourself ready for that Thursday night game?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, the biggest thing is our guys were off Sunday and Monday, which is good for our guys a little bit and going into the game. So obviously we’ve got a lot of guys beat up, banged up, trying to get some of these guys healthy. That’s a big part of it. Then just having some extra time. A normal game week for us would be Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, but you got some extra time yesterday, today, tomorrow, to really get a head start on these guys and it’s really helpful because defending the triple option is just a season of its own. It’s totally different from anything that you see all year and having some extra time is very beneficial for us.
Q. One last question, if the season ended today are you happy where you guys are now, or do you hope to improve on something if the season ended?
COACH SWINNEY: If the season ended today and we were seventh in the country and undefeated on the road and only one loss, I’d say that’s a great year. Haven’t had many back-to-back top 10 finishes around here. It’s been a long time since that’s happened. So that’s certainly one of our goals to finish in the top 10, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a team start in the top 10 and stay in the top 10 all year. So, yeah, if it ended today I’d be very pleased. It would be heck of a year. But that’s not the case. We’ve got a lot of work left to do.
Q. Georgia Tech also has this week off. Is there an advantage, though? Do you get more of an advantage because their offense is so unique and getting the extra time to prepare for it as opposed to your offense, although obviously very potent, is a more traditional offense that you know what I’m saying, the extra practice time may benefit you guys more than Georgia Tech?
COACH SWINNEY: I think it’s beneficial for both, because we’re kind of unique in what we do as well — they’ve seen other teams that do similar things. But with our tempo and a lot of different looks that we present, I’m sure it’s very helpful for them to have a few extra days to study and pick up tendencies and tips, things like that, just like it is for us. So I think it’s beneficial for both teams and also just, again, just to have some extra time to get your guys healthy and fresh and ready to put their best foot forward on Thursday night.
Q. I know they’re a different team. You beat them last year but they ran for 339 yards. Just talk about how tough that offense is to defend. It’s not a wishbone anymore. But it’s that wing option offense that Paul runs. How tough is that to defend?
COACH SWINNEY: Very tough. You gotta do a great job at the line of scrimmage and really hold up at the point of attack. You gotta be very, very disciplined. Their scheme forces you to be incredibly disciplined. You can’t make mistakes. If you do, it’s chunks, 20 yards, 40 yards, those type of plays. You gotta do a great job of leveraging the ball. You have to have your eyes on the right things because if you don’t it’s a 50-yard play over the top of you. You have to tackle well because they create a lot of one-on-one tackles, because everybody’s tied up doing their job. Somebody’s gotta take the dive every play, got the quarterback, got the pitch and it’s four down territory the whole game, basically. So first down is huge, first and second down is really big against this team because you don’t want them to be able to stay in third and one and third and two and third and three all day. That’s a tough challenge. But just the discipline that you have to play with and the uniqueness of how they block, a lot of cut blocking and all that kind of stuff makes it a challenge.
Q. Coach, I’m sort of curious about the way you approach this game offensively. On the one hand it would work to your advantage to have a lot of ball control and eat a lot of time off the clock to keep their offense off the field because they tend to control the ball for so long. And on the other hand you don’t want to abandon your quick strike opportunities either. How do you strike that balance in there, what’s the best way to approach that offensively?
COACH SWINNEY: We just do what we do. I mean, that’s something that our defense’s job is to get stops and the offensive job is to score points. We score in two plays or 20 plays. The objective is to execute on both sides of the ball. And tempo is big for us, but the big thing is you have to maximize your opportunities against a team like this, because they definitely will take the air out of the ball. So you gotta maximize your opportunities and you gotta get stops. It’s just that simple. Our defense is — and when we’ve beaten these guys that’s been the case. We’ve been able to get stops and maximize our opportunities on the offensive side and take care of the ball. When we’ve had our struggles is when we’ve had a hard time stopping them and we’ve turned it over. That’s a double-edged sword right there. You have to do a great job from a ball security standpoint, not give them extra at-bats, and when you do have it you gotta be very efficient and maximize those opportunities.
Q. What about the way they come at you with blocking angles and things like that, when does your defensive line have to be prepared that’s different from that standpoint?
COACH SWINNEY: Guys just firing off cut blocks. It’s just a different deal that you don’t see every week. So you have to spend a lot of time in practice in preparing those guys and using your scouts and using your drill work to really teach them how to play those type of blocks, how to play with their hands and keep great leverage. Like I said, it’s kind of a season of its own, but we’ve played Georgia Tech every year, and our guys have a good understanding of this particular game and how you have to play to give yourself a chance.