Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney held his weekly teleconference with the media on Monday evening, reviewing the fourth-ranked Tigers’ 63-3 win at Wake Forest on Saturday and looking ahead to his team’s game vs. NC State on Oct. 20 following the open date. A transcript follows:
Swinney’s opening statement:
“It was good to not have to come in here yesterday, and everybody get a chance to take a little bit of a breather anyway. We did have C.J. (Fuller)’s funeral. It was a beautiful service and emotional day for a lot of people, but definitely a beautiful service.
“But to reiterate what I said the other night, just a special game. Lot of fun. Definitely our most complete game as far as putting it all together — running, passing, sacking the quarterback, controlling the line of scrimmage, creating another turnover… Just so many good things in the game. We got the chance to play all the guys, and it was a fun game in that we got a chance to see a lot of guys play and play well. We had an opportunity to coach those guys. But I think our mission was competed. We wanted to create some confidence and momentum going into this open date and feel good about finishing the first half of the season. I think we’ve done that. There’s lots of positives for sure.
“Offensively, right at 700 yards, and what we did rushing and 25-of-30 passing, no interceptions… Really solid in the red zone, and our explosiveness continues to be a positive for us. Six touchdowns of 50 yards or more, and just really a lot of good things to build on there.
“And defensively, we just absolutely controlled the line of scrimmage. We handled their tempo. We lined up well. We pressured the quarterback, played in their backfield all night. We played good red-zone defense. This was the second offense in this league coming in – they rushed the ball well on Notre Dame and put up 20-something points on Notre Dame. Really just pleased with our guys. I thought we tackled well. We dominated third down. They were only 7-of-27 passing. Just a lot of good stuff.
“So, really pleased. Did some good things in special teams as well. But you come off a game like that, and it’s easy to feel good about it. But we turned the tape on – golly, we’ve still got so many errors and things that we can improve on for sure. We did have a turnover, and we’ve got some fundamental, technique things that we’ve got to get better at, at all positions on both sides of the ball. So, I just like where we are. I like the mindset that our team has. There’s a lot of urgency within our coaching staff to try to improve on a lot of these details because that’s what we’re going to have to have. We’ve got to be coachable and relentless to improve.
“So, just huge week coming up, starting tonight. We’re getting ready to head out on the practice field here shortly and try to get a good week of work done on Clemson and also on NC State. They have an open date as well, so how we manage that time is critical. But again, we’re proud of our guys, proud of where we are, and if we can continue to improve in some critical areas, I think that we have a chance to be a really good team. But right now all we can do is be 6-0, and that’s what we are, and excited about an undefeated matchup here two weeks from now in the Valley.”
Swinney updates health status of his team
“Health-wise we’re in good shape. I think our team’s in a good spot, and certainly coming off an open date, hopefully that will help us even more.”
Swinney announces Clemson’s players of the game from win at Wake Forest
“On defense, it was Tre Lamar and Tanner Muse. I thought they just played outstanding. And on offense, it was our entire offensive line. We rushed the ball for 471 yards. I haven’t been a part of many of those. But just really a great job by those guys up front. And then special teams was A.J. Terrell. I thought he was relentless on punt coverage. That returner was really good, leading this league, and we held him to 3.8 yards a return. So, he was definitely a big part of the game as well.”
Q: Is this team ready for a few days of down time after the emotional stretch of the past couple weeks that these guys have endured?
Swinney: “That’s one of the things I talked to them today about. We’re going to give them Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. They’re going to get a nice little break, and they certainly deserve that. I’m happy that they’re going to get that. But we’ve got to really be locked in Monday through Thursday. We’re going to practice Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Tomorrow is our community service day. We’re going to serve our community here, and that will be a lot of fun. But just the mental part of what we’ve got to do to get ourselves ready… We can’t check out. I know they’re excited about having a little time this weekend, but we’ve got a lot of work to do before Friday gets here. So, just making sure that we’ve got the right mindset. I thought they came in here today with that, and again, we’ll get out on the field here in just a little bit.”
Question: What has Justyn Ross meant to this offense so far, and do you see him having an even bigger role in the second half of the season?
Swinney: “He’s points. He scores a lot of touchdowns. It seems like every time he catches it, it’s a big one. He’s just another weapon. Obviously we’ve got some really good players, especially at that 9-man position with Tee (Higgins), Diondre (Overton) and Justyn. He’s a big, strong, physical receiver. The other thing is what he does without the ball, too. That’s what excites me. He is a physical blocker and is a very polished route-runner for a guy that is a freshman. So, just gives us another weapon, and there’s no question he’s on his way to having a great second half and definitely a guy that we want to continue to have involved.”
Q: Where does your comfort level currently stand with Ben Batson now that he has had a couple of weeks to be full-go at practice with the finger having healed? And moving forward, is the idea to have him as the third-string quarterback, or would Renfrow still be the guy you would go to in an emergency?
Swinney: “Ben’s definitely the third guy. He’s the most functional guy. He’s been working quarterback since he got here and all summer. He’s played a lot of quarterback. He spent his whole high school career playing the position, so he’s a good player. He’s still the furthest behind, so I wouldn’t say I’d be sleeping good if I knew he was going to have to go out there and start for us right now. But as the third guy, I think he’s very functional for us. But we were very fortunate we were able to get him in there and get a few snaps.
“And same thing with Renfrow. Renfrow’s still an emergency guy for us. We’ll continue to work him. It was good for him, too, to be able to get out there and have to operate and manage the operation.”
Q: Against Trevor Lawrence, have defenses played their safeties back more to prevent the big play and thereby opening up some stuff with the running game as a result?
Swinney: “I don’t think so. I think people have pretty much stayed true to who they are as far as what they’ve done on film. Syracuse didn’t stay back. They were geared up to stop the run the whole way, but that’s what they’ve shown on tape. They’re very aggressive, loaded boxes… But we were still able to run the ball, which was one of the most gratifying things of that game because defensively, they’re structured to stop the run and they couldn’t. But again, that’s who they were. When we played Georgia Tech the week before that, Georgia Tech did what Georgia Tech has done to everybody. There wasn’t really much different. There were a few little nuances here or there, but pretty much kind of a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, try to stop the run with six people and try to get an extra hat here or there with a cheat player. But I think to this point, I don’t think we’ve got enough video evidence right now of people playing us a certain way because of Trevor. I think right now, after just a couple games, people have done what they’ve done on tape coming into it.”
Q: A lot of teams on the national scene seemed to have played a lot of high-level football. Do you think your team is beginning to start to play its best now and building toward peaking at the end of the season?
Swinney: “Our best football isn’t behind us, that’s for sure. We’ve been a work in progress this first half. I think we are on the right track. I think we are getting better, but we’re a long way from playing our best game. We’ve got too many things that we’ve got to do better, details to clean up – technique, footwork, football awareness… Just a lot of things. But the guys are playing hard. They want to be coached. So, the good news is we’re 6-0, and the better news is we haven’t come close to playing our best game. Not even close. We’ve got a lot of room for improvement, and we’re not a finished product or anything like that. So, hopefully we’re a team that continues to get better. You want to be good enough to win in the beginning. They all matter. You want to get off to a good start, but not many teams play their best football early… So, we’re just continuing to try to handle our business and hopefully in the end we’ll be a good team.”
Q: I know you said Braden Galloway was a pretty raw player coming out of high school, but how have you seen him develop both in the receiving game and as a blocker through these first six games?
Swinney: “He’s still got a ways to go, but he’s coming. I love his effort. We’re high on Braden Galloway. We really think he’s got a chance to be a great player. He’s long, he’s incredibly athletic, he’s fast. He’s a work in progress physically as far as just developing his body, although he’s in a pretty good spot for a starting point. He’s got a lot to learn in just the nuances of the position, but we’re really excited about Braden. He’s making good progress.”