After having the previous week off from practice, No. 2 Clemson got back into gear on Monday with team meetings and practice as they prepare to face No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31 in Glendale, Arizona.
On Tuesday, the media spoke to head coach Dabo Swinney and a few players who previewed the Tigers-Buckeyes matchup. Here is what we heard:
Swinney’s opening statement entailed his excitement to prepare for Ohio State.
“Good break for them. Very proud of this team and the accomplishments they have had. At the end of the day, we’re where we wanted to be. We wanted to be in the final four. That’s where we are. We have a shot to get back to the championship,” Swinney said. “We have four great teams, and to win you have to play well. You’re not going to sneak up on anybody and have to play football at a high level. We are excited to get dialed in on Ohio State.”
Swinney says Ohio State is a great football team and Urban Meyer is a great football coach and a great friend.
“He has done it everywhere he has been. The guy just wins,” Swinney said.
Offensively, Swinney broke down Ohio State’s offense and highlights their strengths.”
“Offensively, they’re a run first offense. Excellent running back, a great tight end in eighty-five, and number four is special. He has over fourteen hundred yards and fifteen touchdowns. He has a similar explosiveness to Sammy (Watkins). He’s very comfortable running the football. One of the most dynamic players you’ll see in the final four,” Swinney said. “J.T. is a great quarterback. He’s a guy who can beat you in a lot of ways.”
Defensive end Clelin Ferrell adds that shutting down J.T. Barrett will be the key to winning the Fiesta Bowl.
“He’s a really good quarterback, everything goes through him. He’s definitely going to be the key. We’re going to have to focus in on him and the game plan. I think we have a really good game plan for him. That running back (Curtis Samuel)… they’ve got a good offensive line, a bunch of NFL guys up front. So, it’ll be big this game,” Ferrell said.
Defensively, Swinney has high praise for the Buckeyes’ secondary.
“This will be as good of a secondary as we’ve seen. They’ve got a lot of depth in the secondary. Number 24 at safety is big-time special. He’s a tackler, he’s got great range,” Swinney said.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables spoke on other keys to winning this matchup.
“The margin for error is lessened with the better teams you play. You have to be at the top of your game to advance,” he said. “Whether it’s Ohio State, Alabama, or Washington, those teams make very few mistakes and force a lot of mistakes. Between turnovers, explosive plays, and winning the line of scrimmage are going to be critical in winning this game. Not giving up cheap ones is a big part of it.
“Momentum is typically a big part of the bowl games and playoff games. You can really shift the tide in a game like this with momentum plays. Both for you and against you. Our guys are as sharp as they’ve been all year.”
In order to implant a sound game plan for a tough defense and talented offense, Clemson has begun putting in work during practice.
“It was a good tough practice. A lot of one-on-ones and ones against ones, a little bit of scout work and a ton of fundamentals and working our young guys,” Venables said.
Christian Wilkins said the team competed at a solid, high level during practice.
“We got after it today. (Monday) was a little slow, but I felt like we competed at a high level today. We’re nowhere near ready to play on the 31st, but it was a good first day of pads,” the sophomore said.
Linebacker Ben Boulware noted the energy in practice was high, just as it has been all season.
“It’s always been high. It’s been that way all season. I think our guys on our team have done a great job of having high energy and making practice fun. We gotta be here, so we might as well make the most of it,” he said.