However, Clemson’s works better than most
ATLANTA — The question was a simple one, but the answers were not.
Each of the four coaches who will play in the College Football Playoff Semifinals on New Year’s Day—Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney—were asked, “From your years of coaching, what phase of the game – offense, defense or special teams – has the advantage with one month to prepare?”
Neither coach thought there was one phase of the game that had an advantage over the other, it was more about what works as a team as they try to get their team’s ready for a national semifinals.
Each coach has their own philosophy in how they go about it. For Smart it’s about how he manages the team overall in those 25 days to make sure they are ready to compete when they face Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.
Riley, Smart’s opponent, feels the same way.
“I don’t think it matters really what side of the ball you’re talking about,” he said. “There’s no other time during the year where you have a month break between games. We’re the only sport in the world that I can think of that does that, especially for championship-type games like this.
“I think how you handle those games, how your staff handles them, your players, makes the biggest difference.”
Saban, whose Alabama team will face Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, feels the biggest challenge is trying to get his bigger guys on the offensive and defensive lines ready to play. He feels the skill guys such as the wide receivers, running back and defensive backs, the fast guys, bounce back a lot faster after some time off, while that’s not the case for the guys in the trenches.
“I also think that because you don’t play for a long time, one of the most difficult skills is the fundamental of just blocking and tackling,” he said. “That’s why it’s more challenging to the bigger guys. It just seems like it’s a little bit harder to get everybody back to the level and the standard that you like.
“But the skill guys, they’ll go out there for two days, catch passes, they’re ready to go … the quarterback, the receivers. They’re fast guys, they’re always fast guys. I think those guys have a little bit of an advantage in games with a big break like this.”
As for Swinney, none of that matters. It’s about sticking to the same plan that has allowed the top-ranked Tigers to win five straight bowl games.
The Clemson coach does not believe there is an advantage from an offense, defense, kicking game standpoint. He doesn’t think anybody has an advantage because they all have the same amount of time.
“I think the advantage comes from how you use that time,” Swinney said. “I think everybody uses that time differently.”
Clemson (12-1) uses the bowl prep as a time to work on itself. Swinney says they work a lot on Clemson and they work on developing their younger players, especially those who were redshirted and played on the scout team all year.
This is the first time they get to work with their position coaches on the practice fields since the second week of fall camp.
“We’ve got a formula that we believe in,” he said. “I think everybody is unique and different in how they use that time. I think that is maybe an advantage or not an advantage, depending on what your philosophy is there.
“As far as schematically, I think everybody has the same amount of time to study, prepare, all that. I don’t really see a big advantage there.”