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November 7, 2012

Dabo Swinney

DABO SWINNEY:  Good to be with you guys again today.  For us, we're excited about getting back home, and we've got an opportunity to finish our season here at home, and we're excited about that.
Proud of our team for how they've played on the road this year, good win up at Duke last week, played a very, very complete football game, and our team is really trying to just continue that trend of improvement and really focused on trying to have a great finish.
We're going to have to play well this week against Maryland.  They're probably as good a defensive group as we've seen.  They're top 10, 11 defense in the country, and offensively obviously they've had some issues at quarterback, which is incredibly unfortunate, but now 31 has had a game to play, and I was pretty impressed with the way they coordinated their plan last week and was able to pull it together with not a lot of practice.
But they've got good people that are very capable in the offensive line, at running back and at receiver and tight end that can certainly beat you.
For us it's just about continuing to try to prepare with purpose and play with great effort, emphasize technique and stay committed to the things you've got to do to win football games, and that's really what our team is focused on.
So we look forward to getting back in the valley this week, and with that I'll take your questions.

Q.  My question to you is with the continued evolution of mid‑week college football games, do you think there's a trade‑off between the national television exposure you get versus a potential loss of a potential visit weekend?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, you know, I mean, I guess that's to each his own.  To answer for us, to be honest with you, there is a trade‑off just from a recruiting standpoint.  We try not to do a lot of official visits on game weekends.  We really try to do our officials after the season because you can just‑‑ it allows us to really sell Clemson in the best possible way when you just have more time.  Game weekends there's always a lot going on.
We have a few of those, guys that are mid‑years and maybe guys that are getting ready to make an early decision.  But even if they're not official visits, you have a lot of unofficial visitors that come in on the weekends.  So yeah, there's a definite trade‑off there.  You lose that opportunity to get a lot of guys on your campus for a ballgame because obviously during the week, Tuesday or Wednesday or whatever, they're practicing and preparing, as well.
And that's not really something that we have done much of.  We've had some Thursday night games, but we would never do more than maybe one in a year.  But you see some of the other conferences and schools that do that, and the reason they do that is to try to get the TV exposure, and they have to ask themselves that question, is that exposure worth the trade‑off of not getting them on campus for maybe that weekend and not being on TV.
Yeah, it's just kind of‑‑ it all goes back to money and revenue, so that's just decisions that each school has to make, but ultimately it comes down to, I think, the TV dollars.

Q.  You mentioned Maryland's defense.  What stands out to you about it when you watch it on film, and also with the way you guys are rolling on offense, does it really matter who you're playing on defense now?  You're starting to get that feeling like you got last year when you guys were rolling so much on offense?
DABO SWINNEY:  No, it matters.  We've played well, but we've got to keep it going and continue to do things that give you a chance to be successful.  But listen, their defensive front is very good.  Joe Vellano has been there for 10 years.  I don't think he's ever going to graduate.  The guy has got to be like a seventh year senior or something.  He is a really good football player, and he has been since he's been there.  He leads the league in tackles for loss, they lead the league in sacks, they're very active at linebacker.  They're a 3‑4 personnel but they'll give you a lot of four‑man front, three‑man front, bring pressure.  They've got really good size in the secondary.  Just a very physical, well‑coached defense.  A new coordinator, and I've been very impressed with what they do.  Like I said, they're one of the top in the country.
And their offense has not been great because of the issues that they've had at quarterback, so to me, that's even putting more pressure on their defense, and they continue to play well.  They've played a lot of snaps, and they're just a really, really good group with a lot of talent.  And obviously losing No.9 is a big loss for them, as well, because I thought he was a great player, an NFL guy.  So that hurts them.  But the guy that's going to take his spot, heck, he had 12 tackles against us last year.
They're just a good group that plays really hard and well‑coordinated.  But for us, it's about execution.  It still comes down to just doing the little things, proper technique, communicating properly, making the right decisions at quarterback, throwing and catching, taking care of the football.

Q.  I was at the game last Saturday night in Durham, and I was impressed by one thing:  Obviously you guys had your way on offense the whole night, but defensively I thought there were some shaky moments early, and as the game went on, you guys gradually clamped down on them.  What did you do?  Were you making adjustments or what happened to give you that kind of control later in the game?
DABO SWINNEY:  We really played good the whole game.  Early in the game we gave up the two big plays that were really just‑‑ not to take anything away from them at all because I thought their receiving corps and outstanding and their quarterback is really good, but it was really poor technique and understanding on our part by our two DBs in those two situations.  They just‑‑ the one, he knows he's got no help inside, and for some reason he's just trying to do too much and he's looking in at the backfield, when he has one job, get inside technique, stay on top and just put your eyes on your guy, play your guy.  Because when you don't, that's what happens.  And their receiver did an excellent job of stemming the route, and our guy is looking in at the backfield and he's got no post help, and what does the guy do, he runs to the post.  So well‑executed play and poor job.
But it wasn't a bust, it was just more a technique issue with us.  In the early part of the season we were having some busts and just from a lack of understanding how to apply the defense to what we were seeing, especially early in games.  We're just not having that as much.
A prime example of that is our first six games we had 19 rushes of 20 yards or longer.  In our last three games we've only had one running play of 20 yards or longer.  That's just a product of these guys growing up.  They're just more knowledgeable.  They get it more.  They've been coached, they've made mistakes, they've learned from their experience, we've got good depth.  Those young guys are coming along, and as a result we're playing faster, more physical, more violent, because there's not a lot of thinking going on.  They're able to react and apply our defense.
Just proud of the improvement, as I said, early in the season we were going to be a work in progress, and that's what we've been, but we're playing pretty good football now.  People are going to get 1st downs and there's going to be some plays made, but it's a four‑quarter game, and we are improving not only throughout the season but we're improving throughout the game, and that's a really, really positive sign for our defense.

Q.  Have you ever won so easily a game where it was a 4‑0 turnover margin?
DABO SWINNEY:  No, and probably won't win many of those to be honest with you.  But you've got to give credit to our defense.  They got zero points off those four turnovers, and to take it a step further, our last eight turnovers that we've had, we've given up zero points.  And so our defense deserves a lot of credit for that.
We lead this league in red zone offense and defense, and to me the name of the game is points, and that's where our defense has really done a good job all year.  Early in the year we gave up some big plays and all that, but we've been pretty good red zone and 3rd down all year.  Our defense gets the credit for that.  But you won't win a lot of games when you're minus 4 in the turnover margin.  The flipside of that, that's why we talk about turnover margin all the time.  When we win the turnover margin we are incredibly difficult to beat.  We've only‑‑ last time we lost was the Auburn game of 2010, it was like the second game of the season, and that was in overtime at their place.
So it's important that we win that turnover margin.  That's a real key stat for us, not that you can't win if you lose it, but it's very difficult, and that was a big positive from the game the other night was how our defense responded.

Q.  How much have you seen of Stefon Diggs this year, and I guess have you seen any similarities between what he's been able to do this season to what Sammy Watkins did last year?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, yeah, I've seen him, obviously.  I've seen a good bit of them and him, and he's second in the league in all purpose.  He's a very, very dangerous player.  It's probably not fair to compare him to Sammy at this point just because they've had a totally different situation at quarterback than what we had last year.  But he's an incredibly talented player, that's pretty easy to see.  There's no doubt.  I mean, he's a guy that can take it the distance, bringing kicks back and catching the ball on screens and getting the ball in the running game and being able to get a lot of yards after he touches it.
Very, very talented football player.  Not quite as big as Sammy, but still has good size and is on his way to having a really, really good freshman year.

Q.  Obviously Tajh Boyd came out of high school as one of the top quarterbacks in the state of Virginia, a state that obviously has a handful of other ACC quarterbacks.  What were your early impressions of him when you got him on campus?
DABO SWINNEY:  Big‑time skill set, natural leader, fun to be around every day, serious about being great.  Had a lot to learn, had to get him healthy, had to kind of change his body a little bit.  He was coming off a knee surgery.  He's just continued to grow and mature, and he's really developed into a heck of a quarterback this year.  He was a good player last year, not a great quarterback, and this year he's really matured into a very, very good quarterback, and he's become the leader of the team.  He's not just our quarterback, he is the leader and the heart and soul, and I'm really proud of his overall development, and I look forward to bigger and better things from him.

Q.  Obviously we saw a couple good runs out of him against Virginia Tech and some other teams.  How much liberty do you give him along those lines?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, that's a big part of what we do.  That was one of the things last year down the stretch where we really graded him down on, and he just was very inconsistent with his decision making in the run game.  And this year he's been outstanding, and he's got a much better feel of not just making those decisions in the run game but his scrambling and where‑‑ his pocket presence and understanding the rush and the rush lanes and being much more decisive when he does decide to tuck it and go.  And he's in great shape.
Last year, and we've talked about it many times, he came in about 220 and by the end of the season he was up in the upper 230s, just wasn't quite the same.  Heck, he was 218 yesterday.  He's just in great shape physically and mentally.  His ability to run the football and his effectiveness with that has been a huge, huge part of our success this year.

Q.  Chandler Catanzaro was just named one of the‑‑ I guess a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.  What has he meant to your team, and how has he matured as a kicker since he arrived on campus?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, he's meant a bunch of wins for our team, first of all.  He's been tremendous, and his maturation process has just been awesome to watch.  He had a really tough, well‑documented freshman year.  It was an incredibly difficult year for us because we just could not score that year.  We moved the ball very effectively but we couldn't get it in the end zone and we couldn't make the kicks, and it seemed like the closer we were, the worse we were from a field goal percentage.
But I just really believed in him because of what I'd seen in practice, and he just hadn't quite transferred it, and it was just a tough freshman year, and it wasn't all him.  We had snapping issues and holding issues, and it was everything involved.
I said something that year that I kind of went out on a limb and made a comment after his year, we were going out and we were going to sign a kicker, but that didn't mean that I didn't believe in Catanzaro.  In fact I thought he would turn out to be one of the most consistent kickers that we've had here at Clemson, and people looked at me like I had four eyeballs at the time.
But it was easy to say that because of the work ethic that he has.  He's a mentally tough guy.  Now, some kickers you get around these guys, and boy, they can be not as mentally tough as you want them to be.  But this guy is‑‑ he's got a football mentality, he's an athlete and a great competitor, and all he did was go back to work, and he's just been tremendous, absolutely tremendous.  He's the all‑time most accurate guy here beyond 40 yards, he's set the record here, he's got an incredible streak, I think 20 in a row.  But he's a weapon.  That's what he is.  He's really become a real weapon for us, just like Sammy Watkins.  He's a playmaker, and we've got a lot of confidence in him.
When we get anywhere down in there, anywhere near that red zone area, hey, we have got points, and it gives your team a lot of confidence.  And it also allows your quarterback to have a mentality of listen, let's be smart here, because that was one of the things that happened his freshman year, all of a sudden our quarterback, everybody gets frustrated because he couldn't make a kick and now you start taking chances you shouldn't take and you're turning it over, and it's just not a good situation.
It's been good to see him grow, and I'm happy for him.  It's a well deserved honor for him to be a finalist for the Groza Award, and I hope he wins it.

Q.  I was just looking at some notes, and it says you guys are going for the all‑time record winning streak at home this Saturday, that it would be 11 straight.  I noticed you're finishing up with three games at home.  Can you talk about the advantage of playing in Death Valley?  I assume it's Death Valley, all though I know there's a dissenting opinion there.
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, we've actually won 11 in a row, and we actually tied the record versus Virginia Tech.  If we can win this weekend, we would set the all‑time record here at Death Valley for wins in a row, and I think we've got the third longest home winning streak in the country right now.  To be able to win this week and set that record to me to be something really special to be a part of.  They've been playing here 117 years, and there's been a lot of good teams.  To be a part of that type of record, that type of consistency, that's what you want in your program.
In fact, when I got this job, one of the very first things I said to our team was if we're going to be a consistent program at Clemson, if we're going to take this program back to the top and be a national contender, we've got to win at home.  It starts at home, because we were very inconsistent.  We've really been able to kind of create that culture here, and that starts with our players and our coaches.  They've done a tremendous job.
Our fans have been incredible.  They've brought a lot of life to Death Valley.  The energy that they bring is awesome and gives us a great advantage every time we line up and play in that stadium.
But our guys, they take a lot of pride in playing at home.  They take a lot of pride.  And then we won four road games this year for only the second time in 15 years.  Just trying to build consistency from a winning standpoint is what we're trying to do this year, and we've made good progress.  So hopefully we can get that done and keep it moving forward.

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