Clemson (3-0) coach Dabo Swinney participated in the weekly ACC teleconference on Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s game against Georgia Tech (3-0, 1-0 ACC) at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Here’s what he had to say, courtesy of the ACC:
Opening statement: We’re excited about starting ACC play. First conference game on the road. Going to be a tough challenge for us. We’ve had a short week coming off a game on Saturday. Been a mad dash around here Sunday, Monday, Tuesday to get ready to travel today. We’ll be leaving here in a little bit, heading to Atlanta.
But we’re looking forward to it. Georgia Tech is always an incredibly difficult team to prepare for and play, especially down there. A place that we have not fared very well as of late. We’re looking forward to have an opportunity tomorrow night to see if we can find a way to get off to a good start in conference play. Looking forward to it.
Q. As far as Georgia Tech goes, what can you say about Dedrick Mills? He was held out of the second game of the season. In the other two he’s been very effective. Last one three touchdowns.
A: Well, I mean, it’s not just him. I mean, first of all, it all starts with their quarterback, Justin Thomas. He’s the heart of that group, really knows what he’s doing, has great feel for the nuances of their offense, and everything else flows off of that.
I’m impressed with their main two-wide outs they have out there, 83 and 2. All of their A and D backs, all those guys can play. They’ll rotate them in there.
It comes down to being very disciplined, trying to win at the point of attack. If they can block us with any type of consistency, it’s a long night for the Tigers.
We have to disrupt them at the line of scrimmage and be very disciplined with our keys and then tackling. They break a lot of tackles because they create a lot of space tackles out on the perimeter, a lot of crack blocks, things like that.
It’s just a big challenge to really defend all of them, certainly not just one guy.
Q. We’ve seen a lot of guys dropping the ball before they get to the goal line. When it happened to you guys, what happened to you? What is your response in the moment when it’s happening and what is your message to the team after that?
A: It’s really just unbelievable that it happened more than one time. I mean, unbelievable to see so many of those same plays.
I don’t remember being a part of that. But we coach our guys to give the ball to the ref, we always have. It was a great play. My immediate reaction was, I cannot believe you just did that. When he came off the field, I told him, first of all, Great play, great run, outstanding. But you’re going to be a SportsCenter highlight for the rest of your life because you’re not doing what we’re coaching you to do. You’re supposed to hand the ball to the ref.
He felt terrible. I didn’t really have to say anything. He felt terrible. He’ll never make that mistake again, I guarantee you that.
It’s disappointing. Anytime you have the opportunity to put points on the board, especially to take a kickback to the house, it’s just so much energy and excitement. So it was very deflating in that moment.
The other thing for me is I was arguing that it should have been our ball at the one yard line because I felt they called it a touchdown, blew the whistle, so now it’s a dead ball. I didn’t think you could award a dead ball to the other team.
That’s how it turned out. I can’t remember which game it was, they actually did do that, gave them the ball at the one. I was just fighting for anything at the moment.
But we didn’t deserve it, to be honest with you. Should never be in that situation.
Q. On offense, blocking scheme, especially with the wideouts trying to get in there through your legs is very unique. Can you prepare for that on a short week?
A: We do the best we can. It’s a very difficult team to prepare for on a normal week. It definitely makes things even more challenging.
But we try to spend a little time on the option, on Georgia Tech in particular, really all year from a defensive standpoint just because they are so different from anything else that we see. We play them every year. It’s something that we do work on.
It’s hard to simulate the real deal. That’s why they’re a challenge for everybody they play. But we’ve done the best that we could do. I think we’ve prepared well on a short week. They’ve had a short amount of time, as well, to get ready for what we do. We’ll find out tomorrow night.
Q. Normally a Paul Johnson coached team is going to score points. Is this a game you’re looking at you’re going to have to go in and out-score them?
A: Well, I hope not. I mean, I definitely think it’s really difficult to keep them out of the end zone. They’re a four-down team really goal line to goal line. If you give them any fourth-and-shorts, they go for it, more successful than not.
I think the big thing for us is we got to try to create a couple turnovers. I think that’s critical, try to steal a couple of possessions. The nature of what they do, they limit you with your possessions. If we could steal a couple turnovers, then when they do drive the ball, get down in that scoring territory, if we can make them settle for field goals. Those are huge. That’s almost like a stop with them.
But I hope we can play a complete game, and our defense can be disruptive, create turnovers, and offensively we can move the ball effectively, and special teams make an impact in the game in a positive way. That’s what we’re envisioning. That’s what we want to do.
Q. You mentioned the Cal-Texas game where the same play was called absolutely opposite. Is there a concern among the coaches right now the way the officiating is going, especially with all the contact they’re allowing in the secondary right now?
A: Not really for me. I have great respect for the officials and the job they do. At the end of the day they’re not robots, they’re humans. I think all that stuff, we have some go against us, we have some go for us. I just think it’s a part of the game. You got to play through it.
I think the bigger concern to me is not necessarily our officials, there’s always going to be that human element there, but it’s the replay. It’s making sure if we’re going to have replay that we get that right. I think that’s the big thing to me that’s more of a concern.
Q. In terms of finding things out about yourselves, any certain area of improvement you think you saw last week, but because of who you played you’ll get a better sense of whether that was true or not this week?
A: Well, to me, always talk to our guys, it shouldn’t matter who we play, it’s about how we play. Regardless of who we played, I just loved how we played last week. Yes, we should dominate that opponent, and we did. You look around and you see games like that, teams play sloppy and things like that. We really played a clean ballgame last week. I was really pleased with that.
Offensively it started in the fourth quarter of the Troy game. Last three possessions of the Troy game, touchdown, touchdown, field goal. Then game. We won 10 straight possessions of scoring drives.
I think that has really given us a good confidence boost and kind of got our momentum going like we needed to offensively, got the rhythm that we needed. And then, you know, defensively we’ve been pretty consistent for three games. This is a different type of a challenge, for sure, for our defense.
Main thing is just continuing to improve. We’re just picking up where we left off Saturday. That’s playing with all three phases, playing with high execution in all three phases, with great effort, toughness and poise all throughout. That’s what I saw last week, and that’s what I’m looking for us to win to do.
Q. Thinking of execution, last week I want to ask you why the offense was sputtering. You talked about dropped passes. You had eight incompletions Saturday. I assume that was one of the areas where you really improved.
A: Oh, yeah, no question. The first two games, that was an Achilles’ heel for us. Everybody wants to know what’s wrong with offense. We’re a team that throws the football. If we don’t catch it, it really makes it difficult.
We had 12 drops in the first two games, eight in the Troy game. It was just completely deflating to everyone offensively. Last week, as you mentioned, 27 of 35 I believe. Deshaun was 12 of 13, 80%. We just got back to pitching and catching like we’re capable of. That affects everything. The first downs, the third downs, the energy.
Like I said, we scored seven straight possessions in a row to start the game. It all goes back to making the plays that are there. That’s how we have to play. That’s what we’re capable of doing.
Q. We were talking about strange plays and officiating. Have you ever seen a play like the kickoff where the guy caught it and turned to toss it to the ref?
A: First time I’ve been a part of that. Man, the one thing that we coach, we coach our kickoff coverage to cover through the goal line. Even if it’s a touchback, cover through the goal line. That’s the mentality we want to create.
Man, it’s great to see those guys get rewarded for that. It was such a teachable moment for us on both sides. Okay, this is why you cover through the goal line, number one. Then number two, for our returners, you can’t just walk, start walking out and flip the ball down. You got to take a knee and hand the ball to the ref.
Just a good, teachable moment for both sides there. But I’ve never seen that.