Clemson, fresh off a hard-fought 23-17 overtime loss to #1 Florida St., will host North Carolina this Saturday. The Tigers are 14 point favorites, but Coach Dabo Swinney isn’t taking the Tar Heels lightly. Below is a transcript from this week’s press conference.
COACH SWINNEY: First of all, really excited about getting back in the valley. We have three weeks in a row here we’re going to be at home, really excited about that, getting to spend a little time with our home crowd.
Also obviously coming off a disappointing loss, but really proud of the resiliency of our team, how they bounced back, their attitude and focus on what they still control, not necessarily what is behind us.
It’s been a good few days for us, and looking forward to, again, a tough challenge this week. North Carolina presents a lot of challenges. Got a couple quarterbacks. This is the fastest team we’ve seen as far as their operation, tempo, snap the ball. Three really good backs. Big wideouts. 6’3″, 6’4″. They present some problems from an exotic coverage that you really need to be tuned into.
Moving forward into this ACC schedule, it doesn’t get any easier. Again, we look forward to getting back on the field this weekend and see if we can play a little bit better.
Q. We’ve heard how special Deshaun Watson is over the last couple months. Comparisons are Manziel and Winston. What has allowed Deshaun to have the kind of success he’s had 10 months out of high school?
COACH SWINNEY: His DNA, first of all, just who he is. His maturity. He’s way mature beyond his years. The other thing is where he came from. Coach Miller up there at Gainesville, that’s a great program in Gainesville, Georgia. They did a tremendous job in developing Deshaun, that’s for sure. He came in here with a very strong foundation, especially in what we do. That’s why it was such a good fit for us.
Deshaun committed to us his sophomore year in high school. He was very in tune to what we do before he ever got here. He’s been coming up here forever, it seems like, coming to our camps.
Then what he did in high school, he was a starter at 14 years old in the ninth grade. A four?year starter, all the experience that he got, the training he got, especially in the mechanics of what we do offensively, that helped him.
Obviously coming in in January, being able to get the spring under his belt, it was big for him.
The biggest part of it is just his DNA, how he’s been raised by his mom. He’s a special guy.
Q. On the other side of the ball, are you feeling more comfortable with McKenzie and Gary out there at corner, and then Martin playing nickel when he’s healthy?
COACH SWINNEY: I feel real good about our secondary. I said that before the season. I felt that was going to be the most improved part of our team, and it certainly is. It’s not just those guys. We have some really good depth, other good young guys that haven’t had as much opportunity yet, like an Adrian Baker, Marcus Edmond, and Ryan Carter, that we’re excited about, as well.
We got good depth there. Cordrea Tankersley is another guy we’re high on. Martin Jenkins looks like he’s going to be out with a mid foot sprain. We have a ton of confidence in him. Gary is playing well. McKenzie just keeps getting better and is going to continue to get better.
Just good depth overall. They’ve played very well. We got to keep that up.
Q. Looking at your running game, your quarterbacks have gotten involved in this last game that you had against Florida State, what have you seen from their rushing attack? Are you getting what you want out of them or is there more to be had?
COACH SWINNEY: There’s plenty more to be had. These first three games we’ve been figuring some things out. I think whether it’s getting the right combination up front in our offensive line, who does what the best, those are all things that we’re kind of getting some guys experience, Adam Choice, Wayne Gallman, guys that haven’t played at this level. All those things after three games I think are coming together for us. We’ve done some really, really good things.
Some of the running game we have, it goes down as passes. Y’all see it in the stats as passes, but it’s part of our running game. We look at it differently than y’all do. Some of our shovel things, some of our speed motion, some of the screens that are built into our run game, things like that, that’s all part of our running game. So it’s all based on taking what the defense gives you.
But as far as just specifically our backs and our quarterbacks, our offensive line, there’s a lot more to be had. I think we’ll continue to improve there.
Q. You talked about the team bouncing back from the loss against Florida State in overtime. What did you see in the resolve of the team that you were able to hold the No.1 team in the country, without their starting quarterback, what positives did you take away from that loss?
COACH SWINNEY: I mean, just about every indicator that we try to measure as far as winning we hit. But we lost. You give Florida State credit for that because they took advantage of some opportunities and they hung in there.
The way our offensive line played, the way our defensive line played, controlled the line of scrimmage, to hold the No.1 team in the country to minus 12 yards rushing in four quarters…
This is a great football team with an entire senior offensive line, a bunch of great backs, and a great All?American tight end. For those guys to not be able to run the football against us, that was a huge positive. It was a big positive.
Then the way our guys competed on the back end. Obviously we were disappointed with the big play we gave up there. But they competed much better, played with a lot more confidence on the back end. So there were so many positives.
We made some big catches in the game, our receivers made some huge catches. The play of Deshaun Watson. There were so many positives in the game that we can take away.
Obviously we wanted to win it, but at the end of the day you have to give Florida State credit, they won 19 in a row, and they found a way to win. That’s what great teams do, that’s what we have to do. We have to start finding ways to win those games instead of losing them.
Q. With Watson now as your quarterback, how do you think it will affect the offense, change the look of the offense going forward?
COACH SWINNEY: I mean, we do kind of what we do. I mean, certainly each player has different strengths. But as far as the structure of our offense, that won’t change a whole lot. We might prioritize a few things a little differently depending on who’s in the game. But structurally not much change.
Q. In terms of deciding this is the time of the season to make this call, pull this trigger, was it something that became apparent to you, was there a certain moment to make the switch?
COACH SWINNEY: It really had nothing to do with practice. It was simply what happens in the game. As I said many times, I mean, you’re evaluating quarterbacks at this level, especially when you have competition, you have a guy that won the job in the spring, won the job clearly in fall camp. But you could see Deshaun was greatly improving daily.
We committed to play him. But you never know until you get into games how guys are going to respond, perform. The first two games Cole played really well and so did Deshaun. We went into the game with the same mindset. They practiced well. When Deshaun came in?? we missed a touchdown opportunity with Cole, a play he’s got to make for us. When Deshaun came in, he sparked us, continued to play well. We made the decision, Hey, let’s see where this young man can take us.
E played a great game. He was the player of the game. That’s really simply what happened in the game is what has given him an opportunity. As we told him, he doesn’t have a lifetime contract either. It’s still a game of performance. You have to perform. We have to try to win each and every week.
It’s not like Cole Stoudt all of a sudden is the worst quarterback in the country, at the bottom of the list. This is a very tight situation. Deshaun is going to earn the start. He’s going to have a chance to keep the job, but he has to play well. Cole is still going to have an opportunity to play because he can give us an opportunity to win and he deserves to play.