Clemson hung with Georgia in the first half of their opening game, but a second half collapse thanks to Todd Gurley and the Bulldogs defense led to a 45-21 defeat of the Tigers. Gurley ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns, and returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score. He made the most of his limited touches on a sweltering night between the hedges, averaging 17.2 yards every time he got his hands on the ball and breaking Rodney Hampton’s mark of 290 all-purpose yards, set in 1987. Clemson head football coach Dabo Sweeney discussed the Georgia game and the upcoming game against South Carolina St.
COACH SWINNEY: Obviously coming off a disappointing loss from this past weekend. Missed a great opportunity I think to have a chance to steal one on the road and didn’t get it done obviously, but got a lot to improve on. There were a bunch of positives from the game, some things that we can really coach off of.
I’m excited to get back in the Valley. It’s our home opener, and we get seven opportunities a year. We live right here in this stadium. We drive around this campus 365 days a year, and it’s special when you get a chance to see this place come to life. So I’m excited about getting in the Valley and getting to do what we do with the Clemson faithful this weekend.
South Carolina State has got another good team this year. They went on last year and had a really good year and I think they have an excellent team put together this year, really good team. Coach Pough has done a great job with just the consistency in their performance over the years.
Veteran offense. Kind of the roles have changed a little bit last year to this year. Last year they had a real veteran defense. Had some young guys on offense and this year they have got a bunch of veterans on offense. They have got a lot of new faces on defense but offensively, they are confident, first of all. They are 1?0 and scored a ton of points in the opener so they are going to bring in a lot of confidence with that.
Their quarterback is impressive. He was more their wildcat guy last year, but he’s a guy that I think they will definitely involve in trying to create some opportunities for him in the run game. Very capable of making some throws.
Got a bunch of good skill people. Very impressed with their offensive line. They are well?coached up front and they are physical. It’s a good group. They have got some really good players. They have got a couple guys that we recruited.
Defensively, a bunch of new faces. Got a new defensive coordinator that came from Louisville and I think been with Coach Strong for a long time, since maybe all the way back when he was at Florida. They bring a lot of pressure. They are in and out of three down, four down, with their packages, and really do a good job and very impressed with just how hard they play. Obviously we’ve only got one game to watch, but I thought they played extremely hard.
Big thing, though, for us is to really work on Clemson. We have got a lot of improving to do in all areas this week. It is good when you actually have some game film now to coach off of, as opposed to practice, and got a lot of guys that have to learn and correct and stay confident. We’ve got to make sure that the commitment to the overall process of what we do and how we do it is kind of reaffirmed in a few guys.
But my objective is to see us get better as a football team this week. I expect that we will, and again, just everybody learn and correct and be confident. That’s what good teams do. All good teams after a loss, they refocus and they get better.
And as I told the team yesterday, the teams that finish in the top echelon of college football are teams that get better from a loss; that grow; that learn. There’s only one undefeated team last year, so everybody had a loss or two losses or whatever, and if you’re going to be a great team, then you have to grow and learn from those things.
Now, we could all be 1?0 today and having beat East Community College, and we’d probably have had the same mistakes but we probably wouldn’t grow as much those weeks from those mistakes. I obviously wish we had won the game the other night. Thought we were in position, had our chances. But just too many mistakes against a really good football team at their.
Place. Georgia deserved to win and Georgia is going to win a bunch of games, but I think Clemson will, too; if we improve and mature and grow into what I think we’re capable of doing. And this week is a big step toward that, and that’s my challenge to the team this week.
That’s my expectation is to correct a lot of these mistakes that we saw, things that were very, very correctible. So looking forward to getting back out on the field.
Health?wise, we are in good shape?? with Sam Cooper, just the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. He actually thought somebody had hit him with the football. He thought he had been hit by something, but he broke his fibula, which is the non?weight bearing bone. But we are very encouraged by his prognosis and I’m happy for him that we are going to get him back here in the short term.
So it’s good that we’ll play this week, and then we’ll have an open date. We have a couple weeks before we play again. So we expect to get Sam Cooper back, hopefully sooner than later. But other than that, we came through the game pretty good health?wise. Good to get a few of those guys back that weren’t able to play Saturday night. Glad to have those guys back in the fold, as well.
Q. You won pretty handily against SC State last year. Anything you see this time around that could be more difficult or challenging when you take them on?
COACH SWINNEY: No, I think they are a good team. I think last year we had a couple scores on defense. You score on defense, that’s a big factor in the game. I thought we just kind of got on them early and all three phases came together. When you put all three phases together, when you have got a talented group, that’s hard to overcome.
That’s what we did last year and that’s what I want to see this year. I want to see us put all three phases together, all three phases improve, get better in the areas that we need to improve in. As far as the score, I don’t care what the score is. I just want to see us get better, and I want to see us find a way to win, period, bottom line.
But South Carolina State, they will be excited. It’s a great opportunity for them to come. Again a few of those guys that we recruited that are really good players, really good players. No.10 on defense, a freshman, Leonard, that’s Anthony Waters little brother. He was a guy that we probably would have signed four or five years. He’s starting for them as a freshman. He’s a really good player, and they have got a couple linemen that we recruited. They have some guys, and they will come with AGame. But again it’s about us playing and performing to the standard that we have set.
Q. David and Corey were starting last year. How quickly do you give them their jobs back or how quickly do they earn them back?
COACH SWINNEY: Again they have done nothing to not be considered two of our best players. They just were not able to play in that game. But we have prepared and practiced with them all fall camp. We prepared for the season, not just one game.
Those guys, we’ll plug them right back in there and get going. We’ll see how we do today and tomorrow. Today and tomorrow are critical days for us from a practice standpoint and making some decisions how we are going to go into the game.
I loved both of those guys’ effort and energy last night on the field. Corey was ready to go. But again, consequences for your actions. I don’t have any doubt ?? I mean, those guys have been great since the spring, they really have. They have gone above and beyond, and I’m just glad that we can move on and they can get out there and go play.
Q. Any concern with the kicking gameas far as Ammon Lakip with the miss, is that an open competition? Is it that still his job?
COACH SWINNEY: It’s still his job. It’s one miss. I wish he would have made it. He’s 0?for?1. If he’s 0?for for a while, then we’ve got issues. But I’m not going to fire a guy because he’s 0?for?1.
Obviously that’s his job and he’s got to do that but we’re not to that point right now. Hopefully he’ll get better this week and hopefully he’ll grow his confidence a little bit more.
You know, it was a big kick. That was a big one, and that’s one of the things when you are always trying to make that point to your team about how critical special teams is, especially in games like that. Sometimes you can make a lot of mistakes and you’re just that much better than the opponent.
But when you’re playing against a very talented team, equally talented team, especially at their place, special teams is a lot of times, just it’s the difference. It really is four or five plays and if we didn’t change anything in the game, because we had enough mistakes to lose three times on offense and defense, and critical, correctible mistakes.
But if you just change the kick return and to make that field goal, we’re up seven in the fourth quarter. Won’t change anything else.
So that’s how important special teams is. We had a couple young guys on there that we’ve got to coach them. It’s unfortunate that you’ve got to?? sometimes you learn the most from some pain, but that’s part of it. Usually the biggest growth opportunities comes from a little pain and suffering and adversity. So we’ll coach from it.
I think Ammon is an excellent kicker. I think Ammon, I really think he’s going to have a great year. Wish we’d had a couple more opportunities the other night but he didn’t make that first one. And we’ll keep on plugging. Again, just one game and one field goal.
Q. How much of a concern was it from a tight end standpoint not getting off the line and not being a factor for you in the passing game?
COACH SWINNEY: I didn’t think our tight ends struggled getting off the line. We just didn’t really involve them quite as much as we’d like to, and a lot of that just got dictated into what we do. First half, we wanted to run the football, and we pretty much had our way the first half. Really did what we wanted to do. Probably played as good a first half as we’ve done in a long time.
Execution was great, with the exception of those drops that we had that killed two drives, but other than that, we were running it. And really liked what we were doing.
Jay Jay got in there and did a nice job, but we aren’t really throwing the ball all over the park. And then second half, we played backed up and we didn’t have the ball. I mean, that’s the offense’s fault. They were just three?and?out when we did get it. I think we only made two first downs.
But the whole time of possession completely flipped from first half to second half and just didn’t do a lot in the passing game. But those guys saying they struggled getting off the line and all that, I don’t think that’s accurate.
Q. Chad talked a little bit about I guess integrating young players, first?year players into a game situation too soon and perhaps maybe?? he implied that perhaps it wasn’t the perfect situation to give more exposure to first?year guys you’re going to count on as playmakers on offense. Was that pivotal in this game? Were you comfortable with the guys you have in those roles? Because it didn’t seem to me that there was anybody on the field you could say, he could make a play??
COACH SWINNEY: You talking about the freshmen? I don’t agree with that. Again, I think just the circumstances of the game in the second half changed drastically. We had all of a sudden just a rash of mental errors. There was one guy, two guys, one guy; we very rarely had 11 guys. And I wouldn’t do anything different, and it just affected a lot of things: Field position, backed up behind the chains, whatever it may be.
But we got playmakers. You’re going against a really, really good team. I think that’s a rush to judgment and a little bit of an overreaction. I think we have got really good players. As far as our young guys, you’re going to see some more of those guys as we go through.
But I think what Chad was saying is, I mean, that was a different stage, and some of these guys, it’s their first time to play and you don’t really know how they are going to respond; how is Wayne Gallman going to respond. Wayne did a nice job for what we asked him to do and he’s a guy you’ll see more of. He kind of catches your breath.
Same thing with Adam Choice. Adam Choice, a week or so ago, we were going to redshirt, and now we are going to get him ready to play. He wasn’t quite ready for everything with the amount of pressures and different looks that they presented. He wasn’t quite ready for that. But those two guys you’ll see continue to become factors in the running game.
And then those three young wide outs. Charone played a little bit on special teams. But I really love the look on Demarre Kitt and Artavis Scott. I thought they were ready and not overwhelmed with the moment. It was great to see Artavis make a great play. But again we had kind of limited opportunities in that second half.
You know, you’re going to play your best guys, and we have got a good lineup. We have got the best guys out there and we’ll keep developing the rest of our roster. But you’ll see a lot of guys mature and develop as we go through this year. You can’t?? one game, you can’t judge a season or a whole football team.
But I really like the young talent that we have. It’s the first time Joe Gore’s played. He’s played and been on the field but it’s been mostly he’s in backup role, he’s hurt all last year. So the year before, we threw him in there for about five snaps against LSU.
So it was good to see him, because he cares. Joe Gore really cares, and he played a really good first half. Didn’t play as well second half, fundamentally, technically and assignment?wise and so forth, but he really, really cares. I think he will drastically improve. He’s a guy that, like I said, up front, just hasn’t played a lot.
Jay Guillermo got some good playing time. He did a solid job and he’s a guy that’s going to get better. Reid Webster was a big, bright spot for us first time he started, and he’s got pretty good experience in his four years. But first time he’s been in that role. He really responded. I was very pleased with him.
So there was a lot of good things from the game that we can?? Jay Jay McCullough was a bright spot for us, kind of in flux right before the game, losing Cooper, big role that Cooper had in that game, and Jay Jay had not had some of those reps and he jumped in there and really showed more physicality than he had last year. I was impressed with him. He’s earned more opportunity.
So again, you’d have liked to have gotten the win to correct all those things because it just feels better because the fun is in the winning but we are going to improve as a football team drastically from what happened Saturday night.
Q. When you have a game like that where there is clearly so much good in one?half and not so much good in the other half, obviously you’re going to break down both halves of film. Which one was easier to teach off of especially for younger guys?
COACH SWINNEY: Both. Both. They are critical. You have got to learn from the success and you’ve got to learn from the failure and why, and you’ve got to be honest. Yesterday was a long, tough day, because, you know, you have honest conversations and everybody needs to know; and my job is to make sure that the offense knows what happened on defense, and that the defense knows what happened on offense and that they both know what happened on special teams and that everybody is on the same page, so that we can correct it.
That’s what getting better is all about. And same thing with coaching mistakes that we made. It’s everybody; it’s accountability, all of us and ultimately it’s a hundred percent on me. But everybody has got to have that accountability and that ownership.
It’s called teaching. That’s what we do. We teach. So you teach from everything. You teach from the good. You teach from the bad. You teach from the in between. And then you go practice and you get better and you get back out there. Everything in competition is about the next game, man, the next game, the next season, whatever, whatever it is. When you’re a competitor, you want to get back out on the field.
All I know is a win makes things just a little bit better. And then another win makes things just a little bit better. But we have got 11 more games, and I don’t have any doubt we’re going to be a really good football team.
Q. Do you look at these FCS games against FCS teams as a really good opportunity to correct mistakes and get people playing time? The last few years, these FCS games have been relatively easy for you.
COACH SWINNEY: That’s probably why a lot of these people schedule these games as the opener. You look around college football, that’s why a lot of people do that so they can play a bunch of people, see some guys that haven’t played. Probably make some first?game mistakes and maybe can overcome it, things like that.
But, you know, that’s just the way it is. At the end of the day, you have to play them all no matter when they are on your schedule. You play them and you live with whatever results you get. But I think it’s good for us to play an in?state school like this. I think it’s good for a lot of reasons.
I think it’s good for us to be able to have a home game here and grow our team. And I think it’s great for them because they get an opportunity to play on a big stage, and it’s great for our state because it keeps the money in the state and it helps them financially.
So I think there’s a lot of positives from that. You know, one of those a year, I think that’s good for football. It’s good for them. It’s good for us. You know, don’t get many of those opportunities.
Q. How much confidence can be gained from this football game to get guys believing and get the win for what’s going to happen when they get to Tallahassee?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, it’s very important. I mean, just cleaning up the execution from an assignment standpoint, getting guys consistently on the same page so that we can see what we can do. Because it makes a difference, when you’ve got 11 instead of nine or ten, it makes a big difference, and just correcting some of the mistakes.
At the end of the day, it’s about the little things. The game the other night is about the little things. It’s about the little things. We’ve been talking a lot about that. I mean, it’s stance; it’s footwork; it’s pad level; it’s hand placement; it’s alignment; it’s your eyes; it’s hat?in?hand shedding blockers; it’s catching the football. It’s little things. It’s taking on a wedge. It’s not the big things. It’s just little things.
So you want to see your team improve in a game like this and that’s what we’re looking forward toward.
Q. What’s the evaluation of the linebackers as far as gap control?
COACH SWINNEY: For three quarters, did a great job, we really did. The thing we have to do defensively is create the mentality that it don’t matter where the ball is or what the offense is doing.
We won the National Championship in 1992, and you know, we had a bunch of three and outs. We had a bunch of them. They were just fired up to go play defense again. They couldn’t get out there fast enough, and that’s a mentality that I think that I want to see us establish defensively.
I think defensively we got a little bit pouty the other night because they worried about what the offense is doing. Don’t matter what the offense is doing. Go play. Ball is on the five?yard line or minus?five, it don’t matter. Our job is to get stops.
And offensively we had probably our best offensive play of the game the other night, 60?yard punt. That’s an offensive play, 60 yards. We were backed up the whole entire third quarter and we finally, finally flipped the field. Instead of going out there and get a stop and winning the game on defense, you know, we give up an 82?yard drive, most of it on two plays.
I think a lot of that was mentality, attitude. We kind of faded a little bit in that regard from I think frustration of the moment, whatever it may be. And so that’s where we’ve got to grow, because we’re going to be in those situations again. And I think we have got ?? I think we have really good people on defense. I think we’ve got great talent, and I think that we have got good people that care on our defense. So I expect us to drastically improve and learn from what happened the other night.
As far as the backers, I think Tony Steward, he played a heck of a ballgame. He had a couple of times where he missed a steal and he was very disappointed in that, but we got a guy?? he also led our team in tackles on special teams. He had four tackles on special teams and was the first one down and played a ton of snaps on defense. There’s a guy that greatly appreciates his opportunity and is trying to make the most of it. He played a good game. Stephone didn’t play his best game. He cares. I expect him to bounce back and play better. I thought B.J. Goodson did a solid job. His particular job wasn’t necessarily set up to make a lot of plays, but he did his job and I thought played well.
Q. Do you think it’s easier to avoid distraction because Florida State is two weeks away after this week, you have the bye week in between. So the guys don’t really have to overlook or think about what’s ahead because they have to have the bye week for preparation and they can just dial into the task at hand and not worry about such a big game looming?
COACH SWINNEY: They had better get dialed in or they will get beat this week. Ain’t nobody right here talking about Florida State. Y’all might be but we’re not. They don’t get dialed in, [|]they’ll lose this week. We don’t correct some of the mistakes, we’ll get beat this week.
This is a team that ?? they are not going to come in here because they are playing Clemson and say, all right, give me a check, head on home. It don’t work that way. You got to earn it. You have to deserve it. I want to see our football team earn and deserve to win, I don’t care who we play.
So every game is huge. It always cracks me up when we try to create the mentality that one game is bigger than the other. They are all big. They are all big. If you don’t believe that, just come stand behind this podium and lose one of them. You realize just how quick, how big they all are. They are all big and we all want to win.
So that’s not even remotely in our mind. We’ve got to focus 100 percent on South Carolina State, that’s what we’re going to do, and we’ll move on to the next one. If the next one is Florida State, then that’s who it is. When that one is over, we’ll move on to the next one, and we’ll see where we are at the end of the year. But we have got to have the right mentality. The season starts today for this football team.
Q. I don’t know if you had a chance to follow what happened with the NFL over the weekend but a couple of Clemson that got named to 53?man rosters on Saturday and were cut on Sunday, and not without a chance to get picked up. Tajh was hoping he would get picked up by a practice squad. Seems like structurally that that’s a tough deal because there’s no place for those to go. Other sports, you slide down to the next level and you play and you get ready. Do you have any thoughts on that?
COACH SWINNEY: It’s hard. It’s hard. Listen, that’s why I tell our guys all the time, don’t buy the lie, man. Only 6.5 percent of high school players play college football, 6.5 percent. And only 1.67 percent of college players play in the NFL, 1.67 percent. It’s hard.
And not only?? there’s a bunch of them, all these guys that were cut this weekend, they were All?Pros. They are All?Pro players. If they were in our camp, they are a pro player. They are good enough to be pro players. But you know, there’s a lot of different reasons. Guys can play till they’re 40 if they want, if they are good enough. Finances, business, okay.
You don’t think Chris Clemons is good enough to play? They are going to give him $2.8 million dollars to play for the Texans. He played five years for the Dolphins. We’ll pay you $2.8 million; give you 500,000 guaranteed to come play. Well, all of a sudden, maybe?? I don’t know, maybe they make a business decision of, hey, let’s just write him that 400,00 or 500,000 and let’s take this rookie for 500,000, and we’ve saved 1.8 million dollars. That’s a business decision that gets made based on production and performance and all that kind of stuff. It’s a whole different deal.
That’s what I love about college football, I’m going to get five guys for four and five years, and you get to develop relationships and grow them, for life. That’s what I love about college football.
Pro football is different. It’s truly a business. You’ve got guys that made it on the 53 on Saturday and then all of a sudden them guys sitting around the table, they go, oh, well, such?and?such got cut. He’s been through all camp, he’s made the team and this guy got cut from some team over here, let’s bring that guy in. That’s just part of it. That’s why guys better get that education, because that education is ultimately what they all have to fall back on.
Play as long as you can. We have several guys that are in flux right now that are going to be on teams that I think will end up eventually being good players and getting opportunity. But it’s hard. It’s very, very, very difficult; timing, health, roster, who is on the roster already. There’s a lot of circumstances that go into it, and got to get a little lucky, too.
Q. A couple preseason All?Americans and some experience on the defensive line. What type of challenge do you think they might present to you?
COACH SWINNEY: They are. They have got three starters back in the defensive line and one of the starters got beat out but that No. 97 is a big ‘ole man now. He’s a full?grown man. That the quarterback from Benedict, he took some shots last week. He’s got my respect, I promise you that.
We’ve got to do a good job, and the biggest thing is getting them identified. They have got a nice package. Like I said, getting into their three down and four down stuff and the pressures that they mix with it; whether you’re in a three?by?one or two?by?two, or where your back is, whatever. They do a nice job. They do a good job disguising things, bringing safeties, bringing corners.
So we have to really be dialed in and have everybody on the same page. So it’s a good challenge for us. Nothing that we haven’t seen or practiced against, but it’s not easy. If you don’t have everybody dialed in, you’re getting hit with the amount of movement and the amount of people that they will mix?and?match in the pressures.