Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins spoke to the media during media day in Clemson earlier this week as the Tigers get set to play Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff at the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29 in Arlington, Texas.
The Tigers are four quarters away from playing in the national championship game for the third time in four seasons.
Question: Does preparing for the Playoff get any easier or better as it goes along?
Wilkins: “We have been blessed to do this four times in a row and it’s a testament to our program and to everyone involved. Parts of it don’t get easier but other parts of it do.
When you are in this position the people on the outside expect you to know what to do but it’s hard to sustain success. Knowing the routine and how to prepare gets easier because you know what worked in years past and what doesn’t and what to change. It’s about 50/50.”
Question: What is the biggest thing you learned that you didn’t know the first time?
Wilkins: “The first time, it was really hard. The final four is hard and there’s a reason these teams are there and it’s a challenge. It doesn’t matter what conference or how easy we made it look because these teams are talented and capable of beating you.
The hardest part is staying focused with all the free time and the time in between games. You have to get a camp mindset like you’re preparing for your first game of the season. You take what you’ve learned all season and have to stay sharp into the playoff.”
Question: Is this the best shape the team has been in of the four Playoff runs?
Wilkins: “This is definitely the deepest we have ever been, we have three or four at every spot that can get it done. We are pretty healthy too because of the depth and I’d say this is the healthiest we have been. This is the most experienced we have been, this is all everybody who is here knows.
The first few times, guys on the team didn’t always go to the playoff but now seniors down this is all we know.”
Question: How does Notre Dame compare to teams you’ve faced this year?
“Wilkins: In some aspects they may be better or other teams may have done better but collectively this is the best team we will have faced. They are really talented, have a strong line and good backs. Two good quarterbacks and great receivers on the outside.
They are really capable of beating us but we just have to make sure we prepare and keep the focus on us. We win the game now, can’t just show up on the 29th. They are talented and very well coached with good technique.”
Question: How do you plan on containing Ian Book from getting outside the pocket?
Wilkins: “He is a baller, that’s how I describe him. He makes a lot of plays with his feet and can make a lot of throws. He is a really talented player and is a big part of why they are undefeated and in the playoff.
I have a lot of respect for him from watching film with the way he plays and makes plays. We have our work cut out for us because he is that good. We have to make sure we are in position and do our job.
It can be tough against a quarterback like this because you try to be a hero or do too much and he gets outside. If we play within the game plan we should be fine, but you never know because he is a baller.”
Question: Teams have exploited you with tempo, how have you prepared for that?
Wilkins: “With all this time somebody can hit you with anything, you have a lot of time to prepare and see things that didn’t do well with. We have to prepare for any and everything they can throw at us. We have done a lot of self-evaluation to improve.”