Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney held a teleconference with the media Sunday to preview the ACC Championship.
A transcript of the teleconference follows:
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
Coach, if you could give us an opening statement, then we’ll open it up for questions.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, just really proud of our team and our staff. I mean, we really have had a historic season, not just a great season. This has been a lot of first-time-evers in this season. I’m just really proud of our team, these seniors especially.
To be 12-0 is an amazing accomplishment. For us to be the first team to win four division championships, for us coming off our fifth state championship, great accomplishments. We’re excited about representing the Atlantic in the ACC with an opportunity to be the first team to win four championship games in a row.
It’s been a fun year, it’s been a fast year. Probably the fastest season I’ve been around. Seems that way anyway. But we’re excited about it. Look forward to a great night in Charlotte. Charlotte always does such a great job of hosting this event. Look forward to being a part of it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Swinney.
Q. Have you had a chance to sit back and watch the South Carolina game tape, some of your quick observations both offensively and defensively from what you were able to see on film, especially the secondary and some of the issues you saw there?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, yeah. We watched the game. First of all, again, to win five state championships in a row, certainly proud of our team. Not only to win the game, but to win by three touchdowns.
Man, we’re always trying to improve and get better. Offensively probably our best performance of the year, and defensively our worst performance of the year. But it’s a team game. There’s been a lot of games where if our defense doesn’t get the stops, play the way they played, maybe the offense was slow to get going, whatever, we’re probably not 12-0.
Last night was a night the defense needed our offense. Again, we played our worst game defensively and still won by three touchdowns. I think that speaks to the strength of our team.
But the balance offensively was awesome. Big plays, third down, fourth down, strong in the red zone, no sacks. Just really a dominant performance. First time ever to have three 95-plus yard touchdown drives.
But defensively just a poor night, man. Really just a few guys. I thought our effort was good, but we did not play smart. Our football awareness was poor. We had several busts, misalignments, some missed tackles, poor technique. We did not do a good job ever getting up and challenging the receiver. Just a lot of things we did a poor job with. For whatever reason, it was just kind of one thing after another.
Then give them credit, man. I thought their quarterback played great. No. 1 and 13 had career nights. You know what, we got to own that. Nobody is happy about how we played defensively outside of the fact that we did have two goal line stands, a turnover, three sacks.
Just not anywhere near our standard defensively around here. We know we got to get back to work. The bad news is we played our worst team defensively, the good news is we’re better than that, we all know that. Got a bunch of video to show it, basic things we didn’t do right.
They had some wrinkles, too, we didn’t adjust well to as coaches. But we’ll learn from it. It will make it better. At the end of the day I’ve been a part of this thing for 16 years, I just want to win by one more point. If that ever gets to where that’s not enough, then it’s time for me to move on somewhere else. I ain’t never going to apologize for a 21-point win over a state rival, ever.
You people who suggest that it felt like a loss, y’all need to check yourself, too. I’ve been here 16 years. For all those people out there that want to complain about five wins in a row, winning by three touchdowns, man, that’s shameful. That’s a lack of respect for our program and a lack of respect for the effort that these players and coaches put in. I hope you write that.
12-0 football team. A senior class that’s won 52 games. We got people complaining. Give me a break. If 12-0 ain’t good enough, it’s time to seek other places. Make sure you write that.
Q. I know you’re a coach that’s not going to take a conference championship game for granted by any means. What is your take on do you think these games have maybe gone a little underappreciated given what’s happened with the College Football Playoff era? I know it’s a loaded question.
DABO SWINNEY: It’s a playoff game. I don’t think it goes underappreciated. Shoot, for us, we played in three playoffs in a row. Probably don’t get in if we would have lost the game.
It is a playoff game. It’s got huge implications. To play 15 games in college football is really difficult. When you get down the stretch, every game is a playoff game. When you’re one of those eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 teams that really have a shot down the stretch, every game is a playoff game.
This is just another round of the playoffs. It really, truly is. But it’s great to be able to settle the conference championship on the field, to battle it out.
Man, it’s a great honor to represent our division, a great venue in Charlotte. We’re looking forward to it. An opportunity, everybody else is done, an opportunity for us to play another game and, again, continue to just chase history with this group.
Q. Do you almost look at this as an eight-team playoff?
DABO SWINNEY: There is no question about it. It is a playoff. Just go lose the game, you’ll find out. There’s no question.
I think every game is a playoff game, to be honest with you. Those games in September matter. Those games in October matter. That’s what to me is great about college football. The NFL, the NBA, they’ve got their system. People want to do all this and that.
If you go that route, a lot of these games become irrelevant, people start resting their players, not playing people just like you see in all the other leagues because they already know they got their spot in the playoffs locked up.
You have 130 teams. I love the bowl system. I think we got a great mix the way it is. I love the bowl system. I love the fact that tons of teams get an opportunity to develop and end their season with a win. I think that makes college football unique, but yet also still has an opportunity to settle who the national champion is instead of somebody voting on it. I think that’s a positive change. I think it’s been great for college football. A lot of great interest, a lot of discussion.
Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely a playoff game for us in Charlotte.
Q. I know Pat Narduzzi is not putting a lot of stock in the 2016 game. You guys obviously recovered from it well. Did it change your approach at all for the rest of the season after you lost that game in 2016?
DABO SWINNEY: I’m sorry. I didn’t catch the first part of your question. Say that again.
Q. The 2016 game didn’t have a whole lot of negative effect on your team because you won the national championship. Did it affect in any way the way you approached the game, make any changes because of losing that game?
DABO SWINNEY: They just came in here and outplayed us on that day. Man, their quarterback had a heck of a game. I just remember it was a million yards in the game. We couldn’t really stop them. We had some turnovers. They just outplayed us that way. It was a great win.
We were very fortunate. If I remember correctly, it seemed like everybody lost on that day. Had that not happened, we might have been knocked out of the playoff. So we were kind of lucky that we still had an opportunity after we lost that game.
Really the team responded. That’s really all you can do. It’s hard to be undefeated. When you do lose, how do you respond? I thought our team responded well. We literally played our best football from that point on.
So we’re excited about playing Pitt, for sure. I mean, ironically our seniors, their only home loss was against Pitt in their career. They went 27-1 at home. I know they’re excited to have a chance to play Pittsburgh in their last-ever ACC game, to be able to battle it out for the ACC championship. I know it’s something our team is excited about.
Q. Somewhat a disappointment you obviously noticed with the fan base. Is that a direct correlation to you guys as a program having raised the expectation bar so high? Do you feel maybe you’ve spoiled the fan base somewhat with your success over the last four or five years?
DABO SWINNEY: I’m going to say it one more time. We’ve had eight 10-plus win seasons. 12-0. First time in the history of this school we’ve won five state championships in a row. When that’s not enough for some people, it’s sad. It’s sad.
We lost five of those in a row, so yeah, there’s been some articles pushed my way, some comments from people. Man, this program’s never going to be that way. I’m not going to stand for that. It’s too hard to win. It’s too hard to win. These players work too hard.
The goal is to win, period. That’s just the way it is. I don’t want to ever be a program, ever, that doesn’t appreciate winning. When you win by three touchdowns in a state championship, you got people who can’t appreciate that, man, that’s really sad. That’s really sad.
Just look around college football. There’s a lot of places out there that would love to have the program we have here. I can assure you of that.
Q. Interesting you’re playing your fourth different Coastal opponent in four years in the ACC that you hadn’t played during the regular season. How much crossover tape have you been able to watch from Pittsburgh? They played Georgia Tech. You probably get a lot out of that from Georgia Tech’s offensive standpoint. How much of a challenge is that?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, it’s no different playing any other opponent. You get ready for them. If it was beginning of the season, it would be different. We have a bunch of, whatever, 11, 12 games of tape that we can study from their season.
But I’ve seen them on crossover probably three times this year that I’ve been able to see them on tape. I’ve seen them live a couple times. Got to see some of the game the other day a little bit.
Pat has done a good job, a really good job. I know they’re excited to represent the Coastal. It’s all about these four quarters. It doesn’t really matter about anything else. Doesn’t matter what your records are. Doesn’t matter what happened last week. It’s all about this game. This is championship football. Every play is a championship play. The winner is going to hold up the trophy.
Man, we’re excited about the challenge. We’re going to have a heck of a week. We’re going to try to do everything we can to go make history.
Q. In the little film you have seen, do you think they’re considerably different on offense with a new offensive coordinator in there?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, well, to be honest with you, I haven’t studied them enough to be able to really give you a fair assessment. We’re in the process right now of really diving into that.
Q. Your program has done a really good job, your players have done a good job, blocking out, no matter what the circumstances are, facing who you’re facing at the moment. I’m guessing the same thing is true this week, in your opinion, despite the fact that you are going to be heavy favorites coming into this game?
DABO SWINNEY: I think we’ve been heavy favorites in 12 games, so business as usual. We’ve had seven straight wins by 20 points or more. That’s a Clemson record. We’ve scored 27 points or more in every game. That’s a record.
We just try to focus on our business. It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re trying to play our best football. We always talk about, man, we’re playing to the Clemson standard. If we sat around and worried every week about what we’re favorite of, whatever, you’re never going to be very consistent.
So, I mean, we’ve been a team that every week I think has been favored, and most weeks been favored by a lot. For the most part we have played well. Again, we’re 12-0. Haven’t played perfect, but we’ve really played well.
It’s a four-quarter game. They don’t call a game after a quarter, two quarters. You play four quarters. When the game is over, you look up at the scoreboard and get a result. Our team has done an amazing job all year long of just staying focused on the task at hand, regardless of where we play, who we play, what their records are.
This is it, man. This is the end of the race right here. We got five days of preparation and the season’s over. I mean, these guys are going to get a week and a half or so off, then it’s all about a post-season opportunity. You got obviously more time to prepare and stuff like that.
Man, we just want to go empty our tank and finish this thing the right way and try to be ACC champs for the 18th time in our school’s history. That’s our focus. It don’t matter who we play. We’re locked in on that.
Q. Do you think it’s an advantage this is your fourth straight time there, you have the routine down, and your players understand what this week is about?
DABO SWINNEY: I think experience is definitely the best teacher that you can have, for sure. We have a very veteran team. We got a lot of great leaders. We got a lot of guys, a bunch of guys on this team that have won three conference championships. That certainly doesn’t hurt.
You have to prove it Saturday night. You don’t get to carry over any of that stuff. You have to play well and earn it on the field on that day. Our guys understand that. Our preparation won’t be any different this week than it was all the way back for Georgia Southern, whatever week that was. We don’t do anything different.
I think first and foremost that creates the consistency in your preparation. The guys understand we don’t prepare any different for any game. They’re all huge. This just happens to be the last one of our season, and they’re going to hand you a trophy when it’s over.
The same things that win all year long are the same things that win in this game. But definitely the experience of our team is a benefit for us, for sure.
Q. In terms of just being another coach in the industry, how much did you know about Pat Narduzzi before he got to Pitt and the ACC? What were your impressions of him? What do you think about the identity he’s instilled at Pitt?
DABO SWINNEY: I did not know Pat. Obviously knew about him in the industry, so forth. I believe he was with Mark at Michigan State. They were a heck of a tandem, for sure.
I didn’t know him, but have gotten to know him since he’s come into the league. I just think he’s a great fit for their program. When I think of Pittsburgh, I think of toughness, I think of grit. I think epitomizes those two things. He’s a tough, hard-nosed football coach. He’s passionate. He loves the players. He has a defensive background. Their team is kind of built that way.
I think he has an identity that he believes in. His team takes on that identity. But a great guy, a really, really good guy. Like I said, I’ve spent a lot of time with him over the last few years obviously in meetings. Then also he’s one of the guys that goes on the Nike trip, get to spend some time we and his wife there, too. Got a lot of respect for Pat, who he is as a person as well as a great coach.
Q. Talk about Pitt’s running game. They have a two-headed monster. You guys are diving into the film this week. What do you have to do to contain the monster they have up there in western Pennsylvania?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, first of all, we got to get a good plan put together. It all goes back to the trenches. Every week the first thing is to find a way to run the ball, what do we got to do to stop the run. That won’t be any different.
There’s a certain style of play that you have to play to win in the run game. It starts with those guys up front, making sure we got a good plan, how we’re going to fit things up from a second and third level into that run game.
But we’ll put a good plan together, challenge our guys, see if we can go slow ’em down.
Q. You’re bringing your third different quarterback to Charlotte. Talk about Lawrence, his preparation getting ready for this game.
DABO SWINNEY: It’s actually our fourth different quarterback. Tajh Boyd, Kyle Parker took us to Tampa in ’09 in our first championship appearance. We’ve had five quarterbacks that have represented us in this thing.
I’m excited for Trevor. He’s had a great year. Unbelievable game last night. I mean, just wow. He has really settled in, is very confident in what he’s doing. He just sees things. He’s making plays with his legs. Back-to-back weeks, I think last week he averaged over eight yards a carry, this week over 10 yards a carry.
I’m really proud of his progress, where he is right now. He’s just going to continue to improve and get better. But this will be a really fun experience for him. I don’t have any doubt this is one of the reasons he came here. He wanted to compete for championships.
He’s got a division championship, a state championship, and next up is try to win an ACC championship. I know he’ll do everything he can this week to prepare to go play well.
Q. What did you see on the offensive pass interference call on Amari Rodgers’ touchdown?
DABO SWINNEY: Kind of a tic-tac call. He kind of got his hand on him. He could make the call. It’s a judgment thing. It is what it is.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Swinney, we’ll let you go. Thanks for joining us this afternoon. Well will see you Friday in Charlotte for the press conference.
DABO SWINNEY: I appreciate it. Congratulations to Pitt and Coach Narduzzi and his staff for a great season, winning their division. We look forward to a great competition Saturday night.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports