With just under two weeks until top-ranked Clemson faces No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, the Tigers held its own media day on Wednesday at the Poe Indoor Practice Facility in Clemson.
Clemson’s offensive starters, defensive starters, and head coach Dabo Swinney all spoke to the media about the anticipation and excitement surrounding the bowl game and facing Alabama for a third straight year.
Here is what we heard:
Swinney and Clemson have learned a thing or two about Alabama in the Tigers’ last two national championship game, including last years’ 35-31 win. One of those insights is the mindset you have to have to beat an elite team such as Alabama.
“I don’t really have to say much about Alabama,” Swinney said. “Everybody knows the type of mindset you have to have to play these guys. Every six inches of grass that you get against Alabama, you earn. They don’t give you anything. They don’t make many mistakes. You have to just scratch and claw for every patch of grass out there. So there’s a mindset that I think you have to have to beat Alabama.”
Deshaun Watson led Clemson down last year’s road to the national championship, and many doubted any other quarterback could have the same impact. As the Tigers’ leader and voice this season, quarterback Kelly Bryant has defied all odds as he’s led Clemson to the College Football Playoff as a first-year starter.
Even watching from the sidelines the past two years, he learned the game isn’t over until it’s over.
“Looking back on the last two years highlights how long a game is,” Bryant said. “You have to ride the highs and lows of the game and continue to play. It’s how you handle the adversity that may kick in in the game. You have to continue to stick together.
“Last year, we were down 14-0 in the first half, we weren’t really clicking on offense and then boom. Second half, we came out in a rhythm. So you have to continue to keep playing as an offense and team, as well.”
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables and his defense are bearing down and fortunately enough, Clemson has had a month to truly prepare for the Crimson Tide.
“I think it’s really good for us as far as Coach Venables having a month to break them down and for us to get into the film and really get a chance to break them down,” Carter said. “We have a month to really scout them and really to understand what they’re doing offensively.
“Last year we just had a week going into the national championship and now we have a full month. Now that we have a full month, it gives us more of an opportunity to break them down and see what they like to do.”
One thing Wilkins said the defense aims to focus on in this time of preparation is limiting Alabama’s ability to score a lot of points, which is something the Tigers have yet to do against Nick Saban’s offense.
“We feel like, as a defense, we gave them a lot of plays and didn’t really make them earn it. If we want to be in a good position, we’re going to have to make them earn it this year. There has been a lot of points scored in the last two times we played them, and we’re a defense who takes a lot of pride in shutting them down and holding them to a few points and we haven’t done that against Alabama yet.”