FORT LAUDERDALE – Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney held his Orange Bowl press conference Thursday morning at the Embassy Suites. A transcript of the press conference follows:
THE MODERATOR: Coach Swinney, welcome back to the Discover Orange Bowl. There’s one day left until you play in the Discover Orange Bowl. What is left to do for you and your team?
COACH SWINNEY: Just kind of finish up our normal game prep process that we go through each and every game. Obviously, we haven’t played since November the 30th, so it’s been a long, long prep time. We’ve tried to make this a normal game week from a mentality standpoint.
So today is — we just have a walk-through type of deal and good meeting, and then we go through our normal routine that we have on a typical Friday night before the game.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open up for questions for Coach Swinney.
Q. Coach, this will be your last practice walk-through with this group. What will essentially be your message to your team today? Obviously, you’ll get to talk to them in pregame, but this is maybe one of those last moments that you have to sort of fortify that message.
COACH SWINNEY: Just be who we are. Stay committed to the things that have allowed us to get here, continue to prepare. It’s still a long time before we kick off, until 8:32.
The message is a little different in this game as opposed to throughout the season in that you know this is your last game. We don’t have another one. It will be eight months before we play again. So this is the last time that this team will ever be together.
Obviously, when you start back in the spring, it’s a new combination of folks, new freshmen coming in and seniors are gone, new group of seniors. So just enjoy it. Enjoy the opportunity and the moment that you have.
There’s going to be a winner and a loser. Make sure you do everything you can to get yourself ready to play your very best game.
Q. Just any update on Stanton Seckinger, what that might do for the tight ends? And if there’s anybody else, the status.
COACH SWINNEY: We’re fortunate. We’re in pretty good shape. Stanton, I think he’s going to be fine, but it will be — he rolled his ankle. We’ll see where he is game time. Again, he’s had all day yesterday and all day today and a long day tomorrow. We’ll see, but I expect him to be okay.
Q. Dabo, do Brent and Chad go about preparing strategically for Bowl game or season opener, where they have a lot of time to think about it more, differently than other coaches you’ve been around? If so, how is that?
COACH SWINNEY: No. It’s pretty similar. The biggest thing is that we control the schedule. I think that one of the things you can make the mistake in is really overpreparing for an opponent, and it becomes boring, becomes stale, all that. So I think you have to have a good balance throughout your month of preparation, really working on yourself.
Because we are who we are. They are who they are. You’re not going to just show up and be a completely different football team and get away from the things that have allowed you to be successful. So you spend a lot of time going back on the details of what you do.
And as you get into the course of the season, the week gets compressed. There’s not a lot of time. You’re game planning each and every week. So it’s nice to be able to go back and really work and have more time on the fundamentals, the techniques of what we do, and work on yourself.
But then also, obviously, you’ve got to have a good amount of preparation for the opponent. We try not to practice too long. I think that sometimes you can make a mistake doing that. We’ve had 14 practices, and it’s almost like another spring ball. So — and over a month’s worth of time.
And then also we take the time to prepare our young guys on this team for spring. So just having a good balance, a good combination, not overpreparing.
One of the things that we do is the game plan is done before we come to the Bowl site. We don’t come down here trying to figure it out. We know what we’re going to do. We’re committed to our plan. When we get to the Bowl site, we just — we polish, and we really focus on the details and trying to get as many guys dialed in to the plan as possible.
I think that those guys have done a great job all year and have done a great job in preparing our team for this one.
Q. What do you like about the matchup of your receivers and their secondary?
COACH SWINNEY: Listen, we have all the respect in the world for their guys. All those guys can play. Number 1, to me, is a tremendous corner. Their safeties have been guys that have gotten better throughout the course of the season, I think.
We really focus more on what we do. I love our guys at our position at receiver. They’re dynamic players. But they’ve got to play well. They’re going to have to — with what Ohio State does defensively, they challenge you, and you have to go make plays. So our guys are going to have to perform at a high level.
It’s been a while since they’ve played in a game atmosphere, so I don’t have any doubt that we’ll get their best, and hopefully they’ll get our best. I think it’s — I think it’s always a good matchup for us when we look at our receivers. I think we’ve got a good group of guys that compete very hard.
Q. Coach, Ohio State’s pass defense problems well noted this season, and they say backups are backups for a reason. They’re out their best pass rusher, probably out their best cover corner. Would you agree you guys have probably a decided advantage, at least going into the game, on paper because of some of those issues they’re having right now?
COACH SWINNEY: Somebody was asking me that the other day. Listen, it’s hard to see a lot of advantages when you look at a football team that’s 24-1. Everybody, I think, is picking at different things.
Okay, obviously, if you just look at the statistics, you’d say, yeah, well, they’ve not had the type of year they want defensively in the passing game, but a lot of it is people can’t run the ball on them. So that’s where the majority of their — any success that people have had have been in the passing game, and most people have been behind. So they’re having to throw the ball.
So there’s a little bit more — sometimes that stuff can get a little bit skewed. They’ve got some big old hogs up front that don’t allow you to run the football very well. That’s the bottom line. And I know they’re losing a great player in 8. He’s a great player, but this is game 14 for them. So it’s not like they’ve got a bunch of rookies out there. They play a lot of guys, just like we do.
If we lost one of our guys — yeah, you don’t ever want to lose a great player, but we’ve got a lot of guys that have played all year and a lot of experience. Ohio State is a lot bigger than one or two players, and that’s why they’re 24-1. That’s almost unheard of, to be honest with you, in modern football, for them to have that success.
These guys are incredibly confident, as they should be, and I don’t have any doubt that Coach Meyer will have them ready to go.
Q. You guys were in this position a couple years ago and probably didn’t get the result that you were looking for. What did you take from that experience? What have you maybe adjusted to make sure that something like that doesn’t happen again?
COACH SWINNEY: I mean, it was a great experience, first of all, just like this experience has been great, the Discover Orange Bowl. The folks here are unbelievable, just everybody wants to be in the Orange Bowl, everybody. Every coach, every player in the whole country wants to have a chance to be in the Orange Bowl. That was a wonderful experience for us, outside of the result.
But as far as the game, I mean, the biggest thing, if we could take care of the ball, that’s the one thing you’d change. If I could have old Ellington, if I could get him back from the Cardinals and have him squeeze that ball in for about six more inches and not have that ball go 100 yards the other way, and just do a little better job of taking care of it, I think maybe — although we couldn’t really stop them, I think it would have been a little different type of game. They just did a great job taking care of the ball. We didn’t. It was a shootout type of a game.
But it was still a great experience for our guys. I think that — one thing I told our team after the game is you grow and learn from everything. It’s not always — doesn’t always go according to plan for any of us in here, in life or certainly in football. It’s how you respond to those things.
We spent eight months after that year, I mean, we were the worst team in America. We just played in a BCS Bowl, won the ACC first time in 20 years, won 10 games first time in 20-something years, but we were this bad football team. We’re 21-4 since that game, and those four losses have been to top ten teams. We’ve had our fair share of those top ten wins along the way as well.’
So this team has more than responded to a bad night. That’s really what you want to see with people, see them pick themselves up. We came back and had a great year last year. We’ve had a great year this year. This is our fourth top ten matchup for the first time in the history of Clemson. It hasn’t been easy. This is our sixth top 12 matchup in our last 15 games. So our guys are pretty battle tested.
And the biggest change in our team is, when we were here last time, half our roster was freshmen. We had 42 freshmen on the roster, true freshmen and redshirt freshmen. We had a first year quarterback, a lot of puppies in the trenches, and those guys have grown up. I mean, they really have.
We led the nation in tackles for loss with basically the same guys that were young guys a couple years ago, and a lot of them were backups for us but played a lot for us last year as freshmen and sophomores. We don’t have any seniors on the defensive line. So our team is just much more of a veteran group than we were last time down here.
The experience has been tremendous both times, but obviously, we want to get a different result. We want to win the football game.
Q. Two-part question sort of on the tail of what the gentleman just asked. Number one, the game that was here last time, there’s been a lot said about it this week in quotes I’ve been reading. I just wonder sometimes, once the game — once the ball is kicked tomorrow night, what happened last time really doesn’t mean a thing, does it?
COACH SWINNEY: No. It’s kind of the same message that I have every year going into spring ball. Regardless of what happens in this game, the people want to act like it matters, just like last year we beat LSU, and that was a great win for us. It was a great win for a lot of reasons, but it didn’t have anything to do with us beating Georgia. We had a lot of guys that helped us beat LSU that weren’t even with us when we had to line up and play Georgia.
It’s the things that you do in preparation and in performance of the game that help you win. So it’s just when you win games like this, it’s momentum. It’s good energy, all that kind of stuff, but it won’t have anything to do with us going into Athens and opening up the season. That will be a whole different deal.
The fact that we beat Georgia this year doesn’t have anything to do with next year. Each year is different. Every game is a season of its own, if you will, and we just look forward to playing our best game and getting an 11th win for back-to-back years.
Q. Isn’t it awfully hard sometimes, when you have a game like you had here last time, for people to get it out of their head? Not for you and your players to get it out of your head. I’m sure you guys forgot that pretty fast because, when you lose a game by that amount of points, there’s not a whole lot you could have done to turn it around.
COACH SWINNEY: No. Again, it was a bad night.
Q. That’s kind of what I mean.
COACH SWINNEY: Bad night, and we don’t dwell on that. But unfortunately, we don’t forget it either. I don’t think anybody, when you’re a competitor, you ever forget the losses. I mean, heck, I remember every loss — every loss. There’s no pretty losses. Lose by one point, well, that stinks too. A loss is a loss. They all go down the same.
Just like a win is a win. There’s no ugly win, and there’s no pretty loss, in my book. You don’t forget them, but you can’t sit around and dwell on things when you lose a ball game. That’s — there’s one team that’s undefeated in the whole country. We’ve had a heck of a year, again, two tough losses. We just try to focus on the things that allow us to win because we’re good enough.
We have a plan that we feel like, if we execute, we’ve got a great chance to win whatever ball game we’re in, and that’s what we focus on.
Q. We’ve talked about turnovers over and over again, but for Tajh and the skill players, I’m sure it’s something that you don’t want to have them thinking too much about it. Have you and Chad and the coaches harped on it? Do you just kind of let it go? How do you approach a subject like that?
COACH SWINNEY: We just do what we do. You coach every day in practice. You coach every play. And you coach the fundamentals, obviously. You prepare all year long.
We were — you don’t want to have any turnovers, but coming into our last ball game, we felt like we were pretty good. We were one of the best in the country in turnover margin, as a matter of fact, going into that game, and we just — it was a horrific night as far as taking care of the ball. That’s a major reason why we lost the game.
That’s just a common thread for us in all of our losses, and the reason for that is we’ve got a good football team, and when we take care of the ball, there’s usually a good result for us because we’re talented and guys play tough. But that ball is 12 ounces of gold, man, and when you put it on the ground, I mean, it affects everything. It affects momentum. It affects field position. It’s sometimes very hard to overcome.
We’ve had games that we’ve won where we have lost the turnover margin. We’ve just been better, a better team. When you play in games like this, you’ll have a huge margin for error when it comes to not taking care of the football. And a lot of people want to talk about just offense, but I don’t see it as just offense. It’s creating turnovers. It’s just winning that margin, winning that game within the game when you’re playing in these highly competitive matchups like we have here with Ohio State.
Q. Coach, to that point, the guys that were here for a couple of years ago, does that kind of set the tone for this week as far as any added motivation that you guys need to be down here?
COACH SWINNEY: What was the first part of your question?
Q. Just to the guys that were here a couple years ago in that ball game.
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, again, everybody — nobody likes to fail at anything. Any time you work really hard for something and you don’t have success, I mean, what do we all want to do? Play pickup ball, you get whooped, let’s go again right now. Let’s play again right now. It’s just like we were playing a little beach volleyball the other day on our beach outing day. We lost the first game. Let’s play again right now. You want to get a different result.
Unfortunately, when you lose a ball game, especially a Bowl game, you’ve got to live with it for eight months. When you have an opportunity to come to a BCS ball game and lose it, you want to get back and have another opportunity. There’s only six teams, I think, in the country that have been in two BCS Bowls the last three years, and we’re one of them. So it’s a great opportunity for us to have a chance to win one.
The other five teams that have been in 2 out of 3 have all won BCS Bowls. We haven’t. So it’s a great opportunity for us to kind of check that off our list of things we need to accomplish as a program as we continue to climb the mountain. It’s a great opportunity for those reasons.
But they all want to play well. Everybody wants to play well.
Q. You guys, obviously, recruit the state pretty heavily. What’s your overall philosophy when you attack the state and this area, in particular, when you’re looking for guys?
COACH SWINNEY: We cover Florida like it’s an in-state area, just like we do Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina. Those are kind of bread and butter states for us from a recruiting footprint. Clemson has always had great success down here. Obviously, we’ve had some of the best of the best in our program’s history have come from Florida.
Recently, guys like Spiller and Jacoby Ford and so forth, and we signed Adrian Baker out of here last year, who we think is going to be a great corner for us. We’ve got kids from all over the state — west coast, middle of the state, down into the panhandle area. So it’s a state that we cover very thoroughly, and we have great success.
A lot of that is because the young men that have come into our program have been successful, and there’s great relationships in place and trust from the high school coaches here.
Q. Dabo, good morning. This run you guys have been on these last three years, 31, 32 wins, whatever it is, it seems like it’s kind of coincided with the narrative about the ACC changing. One, just how proud are you of Clemson’s role in that? Two, how far and how fast do you think this conference has come these last couple of years?
COACH SWINNEY: We’ve made great strides. I’ve been in this league for 11 years now, so I have a very good perspective of where we were when I first came into this league as to where we are now, program-wise and league-wise. It’s great that Florida State is in the National Championship Game.
I made the statement last year, people constantly ask you about the conference and all that kind of stuff. My message has been pretty consistent, that, hey, the SEC has been dominant for one reason. They’ve produced one or two teams each year that have remained nationally relevant all year and have been in the mix, and they’ve had an opportunity, and we have not done that.
But I really felt like, with what we’ve been able to do, with what Florida State has been able to do, there’s a couple teams, I think, emerging. We need that as a conference. We need two, three, four teams that are nationally relevant. We were in the top ten for 14 weeks this year, school record, and that’s a result of the consistency and the respect that our guys have earned nationally and the type of games that they’ve won. Same thing for Florida State.
We’re the only team in the league that’s had three straight ten-plus win seasons. That’s what we need. We’ve got to have a couple of teams each year that are in the mix, especially as we go into this college football playoff deal, because we want to — we think we have a great conference. You look at — I think, for the first time in history, all the major awards were won by ACC guys. It’s a great league, great league.
So we’re excited about where we are, but we need to win these games. That’s the next step. I don’t think, record-wise, we kind of held up our end of the deal in these BCS games. We need to win these games. Same thing for us. You’ve got Ohio State and Clemson, I think, as going into this season, I really felt like we were one of the 10, 11, 12 teams that really had a chance to be in Pasadena. I still feel that way.
We came up a little short. Ohio State came up a little short, but we shouldn’t play — we shouldn’t prepare any differently than we would if we were in that National Championship Game because, to me, that’s what this represents, and for us to get there, we have to win these type of games. And from a conference standpoint, we have to win these type of games.
So it’s a great opportunity to further our program but also represent the league.
Q. Followup to that, just what are your thoughts about Florida State’s chances in the Championship Game? Does that put more pressure on Clemson now to keep up and get to a Championship Game yourself?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, they’ve won a couple ACC titles in the last few years. We’ve won one, and we’ve kind of been back and forth. I mean, there’s no new pressure. We know that they are a huge challenge for us and we’re a huge challenge for them. The winner of that game has won our league the last several years and represented the league. We have to compete with everybody, not just Florida State, because we’re trying to be the best that we can be.
We have a standard that we try to measure up to. It’s really not about anybody else, but we have great respect for the other teams within the league and especially Florida State and what they’ve been able to accomplish because they’ve beaten us on the field. They’re the only undefeated team in the country.
But I think they’ve got a great chance. They’re, in my opinion, the most complete football team out there. They are a complete football team that has answered every challenge. I just — I think it’s a great compliment to the job that Jimbo has done with his staff and getting all his players on the same page and, again, finding ways to win games.
Obviously, they’ve got a tremendous quarterback — that’s where it starts — who has performed incredibly well. I mean, a Heisman winner. They’ve got a tremendous supporting cast, but they really have a football team, in my opinion, that doesn’t have any weaknesses, very, very complete team.
So the biggest thing you worry about in those type of games is a long time since you’ve played a game. Anything, as we’ve seen, can happen in these Bowl games. The ball bounces a little funny here and there, but I like their odds.
You can’t take anything away from Auburn either. I don’t know that I’d bet against Auburn right now either. Talk about finding ways to win games, they’ve been phenomenal in that area.
So it should be a great ball game. It will be an exciting matchup. Look forward to watching it Monday night.
Q. Coach, how often during a game do you find yourself getting really, really angry on the sidelines? And if that happens, is that okay for a head coach to feel that these days? Or do you try to avoid getting to that point?
COACH SWINNEY: That sounds like a loaded question. I have three boys that have been watching Elf for like a month. It’s great. Angry elf, angry elf. You make me sound like an angry coach.
When we do the right things, pretty good. But every now and then, it’s an emotional game, and sometimes you have to express yourself a certain way when you’re dealing with young people to kind of get their attention every now and then. I try to keep my wits about me for the most part on game days. I try to really help our coaches, really involved in our personnel and managing the game and all that stuff.
But I don’t really spend a lot of time worrying about if I’m angry. I don’t know if angry is a good word, maybe frustrated. Maybe sometimes you might want to challenge somebody. But angry, I don’t know.
Q. Coach, to follow up on that, obviously, the Woody Hayes-Clemson game from ’78 is such a big part of Ohio State history.
COACH SWINNEY: I knew it was a loaded question. I knew it. You set me up.
Q. I’m building up to a thing. How is that viewed from the Clemson side of things? Obviously, it’s a different thing. Has that ever come up in Clemson history?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, obviously, yeah. It’s been talked about many times. It’s obviously been something, as we’ve come into this game, that has been brought up 1,001 times now.
It’s an unfortunate part of the history for both of these teams. I mean, it’s a situation that you wish didn’t occur. There’s been a few times I’d loved to have run out there and punched a few guys myself, but I’ve never crossed that line. I’d like to have tripped a couple of them and climbed on a couple of them’s backs, but that’s just — that’s not part of the game.
I always have great respect for the opponent and a great respect for the competitor. Sometimes I don’t like maybe the way people may go about certain things, but I love to see people compete, and I have great respect for that.
That was a crazy situation. I was a kid, so I don’t remember a whole lot about it. I’ve seen it, heard all about it. It’s a different world back then as far as how things were covered and reported and so forth. Nowadays, it would be ad nauseam. I mean, it would just be nonstop, something like that.
I think it was just a moment of frustration where, for whatever reason, a great coach just kind of lost control, and it’s unfortunate. It’s not something that anybody’s proud of. I don’t think that that diminishes who he is as a coach. You’re talking about one of the greatest men and coaches that’s ever been, and I’m sure that he had great regret, just like we all have great regret when we make a stupid decision, impulse decision.
Yeah, there’s been a few I’d like to have punched, but I’ve never gotten there.
Q. Dabo, two things. Number one, with the intensity you saw like the Rose Bowl — I don’t know if you got to watch any of those games, but the Rose Bowl was played last night. What impact do you think playing two games in a week, week and a half are going to have on those two teams next year that are going to emerge?
COACH SWINNEY: Not any different than the end of the season. You play a big game, and then you’ve got to go play your Championship Game, similar aspect. So that’s, I don’t think, that big a deal. By that time, you’ve had a long layoff.
Everybody — it’s my understanding, the way it’s going to be set up, when you come out of the playoff games, everybody will go back to campus, and you’ve got a good amount of time to kind of refocus and get ready, and it’s more of a business trip. You go back, and it’s maybe a two-day deal or something, and then get ready to play the ball game.
Any time you have another — you play a tough game, sure, there’s always a chance you may lose somebody or something like that, but it’s no different than it is in the course of the season.
Q. The other thing, Ohio State clearly had trouble with its pass defense the last several games of the year, giving up over 1,000 yards passing the last three games total. What do you expect from their defense tomorrow night? Can you fix something like that in a month?
COACH SWINNEY: I expect them to challenge us. They’re a very physical bunch up front. I like their backers. I think that No. 2, he makes about every — he makes plays all over the field. He’s always around the ball. I think they will pressure us and challenge us on the perimeter. I think that they’re confident in their guys.
Again, they have given up some plays, have had some inconsistency, but I think that the fact that they’ve had two 1,000-yard rushers and they’ve won most games pretty handily, all that stuff is skewed, in my opinion. This is a very good football team, a very good defense, a complete team.
You don’t luck up and go 24-1. This is a team that is truly a few minutes away — you saw a great team in Michigan State last night, but this is a team that is a few minutes away from being in the National Championship Game. So they’re a National Championship caliber team. That’s all I know. And I expect them to play that way, and I expect that our guys are going to be ready, and we’re going to have to play and perform to a high level to have a chance to win.
Q. Dabo, you mentioned playing six top 10, 15 teams and how much that helped you. Ohio State hasn’t played that kind of a schedule. How important is it to go through that kind of challenge on a semiweekly basis?
COACH SWINNEY: I think from our perspective, program-wise, it’s the only way that we can thicken our skin, if you will, and develop the calluses that we need to be the type of program that we want to be. We’ve challenged ourselves schedule-wise in a big way because we want to be nationally relevant.
This brand right here, we want — when people see that paw, we want them to know what it means, and I think that that’s one of the best areas that we’ve grown in over the last several years. We’re the 15th most watched team in the country. We’ve built our brand back nationally. We’re not the National Champion yet, but we’ve really become nationally relevant.
When you win some of the games that we’ve won, I remember just a couple years ago, we had a run of Auburn, Florida State, at Virginia Tech, and I was reminded over and over and over how that had never been done by an ACC team, win three straight games versus ranked opponents and how we wasn’t going to do it and this and this and that. That’s all ancient history now. Our guys just continue to get better.
And it’s when you win those games, when you have opportunities to play in those games — the Georgia game, yeah, that’s a tough matchup. Georgia is probably easily one of the top five, ten teams in the country this year. Unfortunately, they had a major overhaul with some injuries.
To win a game like that, to beat LSU who was — LSU, they had 39 guys drafted last year or something. It’s crazy. You win those games, you continue to develop the mentality, the toughness, the will to prepare that you need in your program, and the attitude of belief that, hey, you know what, we can do it. We’re as good as anybody out there.
And that’s the mentality that our guys have. So that comes with the territory when you take on those games. Unfortunately, you lose a few of them along the way as well, but you learn and grow from all of that. I like where we are. I like the fact that, over the last several years, we have had some great matchups. It’s allowed our team to grow.
This is another opportunity to, again, continue our journey to the top of the mountain.