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October 2, 2013

Dabo Swinney

THE MODERATOR:  We'll go ahead and get started and welcome Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney, whose third ranked Tigers will travel to Syracuse for a Saturday game against Atlantic Division rival Syracuse this Saturday at the Carrier Dome.  The game, which is Syracuse's first ACC football game, will have a 3:30 p.m. kickoff, be televised regionally by ABC and to the rest of the nation on ESPN2.
With that, we'll bring on Coach and ask for a brief opening statement and then go to questions.  Coach?
COACH SWINNEY:  Thanks, Mike.  Good to be back with you all this week.
We're excited about going up to Syracuse.  It's great to have Syracuse in our league.  I know this is going to probably become one of those great games every year.  I look forward to having a good competitive rivalry with these guys, especially since they're in our division.
They've got a good football team.¬† They're 2‑2, lost a really close one at Penn State.¬† Got beat by a good Northwestern team on the road as well.¬† These guys are, I think, improving as the year has gone along here.
Again, coming off two big wins, blowout type wins.  They've had an open day.  So there's no doubt they're going to be very confident.  The biggest thing is they play very, very tough at home.  If you just look at their history, beating Louisville, top ten team, beating West Virginia, top ten team, just in the last two years.
They were 6‑1 at home last year with their only loss was to a good Northwestern team, like 41‑40.¬† So very, very good football team and a hard team for us to go up there and beat.
We're going to have to play very well, there's no question about it, but we look forward to the challenge.

Q.¬† Dabo, I know that you said the return game and the special teams was a big emphasis during the off‑season.¬† What has been the issue there, I guess, for the last year or so, and where do you think things stand there now?
COACH SWINNEY:¬† I really like where we are special teams‑wise.¬† Just very, very solid performances with our teams this year.
Last year we were very thin depth‑wise.¬† A lot of your special teams are made up with DBs, linebackers, those type of bodies, and we were very thin.
But we got a lot more youth on our team this year, and a lot of those guys have really impacted us on special teams, Boulware and Jadar Johnson, Jayron Kearse, Cordrea Tankersley, on and on and on.  We've just got a lot more guys that can run, and they've given us very, very quality depth.
Whereas last year we were really having to play some of our guys that were playing a bunch of minutes, or a bunch of plays on offense or defense, and they were also having to play a bunch of plays on special teams.  We've been able to relieve some of those guys in some areas this year, and I think that's really helped us.
But we've been very solid, very solid with our protection, both punting and kicking.  Our coverage has been good.  Our kickoffs have been much more consistent.  I think Pinion has been outstanding.  His punts have been tremendous.  We've been able to create field position, especially pinning some people inside the 20.
And then our return game, although we haven't had a ton of kick returns‑‑ and a lot of that is just a function of the new rules and balls being kicked deeper.¬† I think we've improved punt return‑wise.¬† We still don't get a ton of opportunities.¬† We've seen some teams that do a lot of the rugby kicks and the ball gets on the ground.
I thought last week was probably our best week as a return game.  Had one big return called back because of a roughing of the punter.  Overall, just real pleased with where we are.  I definitely think our special teams have a chance to be a difference maker for us each week.

Q.  It's been a while since you all had a big one in the return game.  Do you think it's only a matter of time?
COACH SWINNEY:¬† Last year was the first year since I've been a head coach that we didn't take one to the house.¬† So it's just been a year since we've had it, as far as a big one, touchdown, but I definitely‑‑ and, again, last year was the first year of the rule changes too.¬† You know, not as many opportunities.
But there's no question we've got good skill, and it's just a matter of time before we have that big, explosive play from a return standpoint.  I like where we are right now.

Q.  Good morning, Dabo.  In terms of your defense this year, I guess you had a nice defense last year, but is this defense, do you think, better in any certain areas?
COACH SWINNEY:  We're better in every area.  We were just okay on defense last year.  We were very young last year.  A bunch of freshmen and sophomores playing in our defensive line.  We didn't have any juniors on the roster in our defensive line last year.
So those guys have just matured, grown up, gotten better, understand more about what it takes and how you've got to play and how you've got to prepare, all that type of stuff.  Our backers are better.  We've got way more depth and maturity in the secondary, and we're just further along.
Second year in our system with Coach Venables, so just made a lot of improvement.¬† We improved the second half of the season last year and really finished well defensively, but we were not a great defense at all last year.¬† We were good‑‑ we're very good in spots, but very inconsistent.¬† This year we've been much more consistent, much more disciplined, much better up front having only lost one guy off our defensive line from last year.¬† So very encouraging.
Don't have any seniors this year.  So they're just a young group that's really grown up and got good depth and experience mixed in.

Q.  Dabo, how are you?
COACH SWINNEY:  I'm good.  Thank you.

Q.  Looking at Syracuse using film from this year, is there one particular skill guy, a back or a receiver, that jumps out at you?
COACH SWINNEY:  That running back, number 45, he's a load.

Q.  Jerome?
COACH SWINNEY:  Yeah, Smith, I believe, is his last name.  He is a load, big, strong, physical back that you're just going to have to tackle for four quarters because he just keeps coming.  Very impressed with him.
He rushed for over 1,100 yards last year.  He leads the ACC in touchdowns.
23, the other guy, he's the change‑up guy from Jerome.¬† He's a smaller guy, more of a scat kind of guy, but very fast, quick.
So they've got a good combination in the backfield, but 45 is a really good football player.  And they got good skill outside.  I mean, they've got some good young talent, a couple of veteran guys out there that do a great job for them.
Got a good offensive line, very physical.  Their center is an outstanding player.  The quarterback situation is still, I think, emerging for them, but No.10, who's kind of taken over the reins now, looks like he's brought a confidence and a spark to them and is a very good player as well.

Q.¬† On the other side of the ball, the Syracuse secondary has had a little bit of trouble this year.¬† Allen Robinson got them when they played Penn State, and then Northwestern put up a lot of points on them. ¬†They played two, I guess, lesser opponents this week‑‑ nothing against Wagner and Tulane.¬† But how important is it going to be to block the blitzes and to be able to just get those guys down the field?¬† At least from our perspective here, it seems like the weakness of the Syracuse defense is the secondary.
COACH SWINNEY:  I just think it goes back to their philosophy is to be aggressive and to create pressure on the opposing quarterback.  If you can handle that well, then it puts the secondary in a bind because they have to win matchups, but that's easier said than done.  They do a great job with their blitz package.
From our perspective, that's the biggest thing for us is being able to handle the pressure so that we can give our skill guys opportunities to make those plays and protect our quarterback.
I know they're coming off maybe two‑‑ everybody looks at it as, well, they beat Wagner and Tulane.¬† They didn't just beat them.¬† They played very well in those games, and they improved.¬† They played very solid against Penn State.¬† Had a few mistakes.¬† Had the punt issue against Penn State that really hurt them, probably the difference in that game.¬† You're talking about on the road.
So this is a tough‑minded team that I think has great belief that they can win on game day, and they play hard.¬† To me‑‑ and especially at home.¬† You just look at their experience at home, they won't be intimidated or anything like that by Clemson.¬† We're going to have to play a very good football game to get this win on the road.

Q.  Hey, Coach SWINNEY, how difficult is it to play in the dome?  I know you guys don't play in the dome down there in Death Valley.  What do you have to get do to get ready for a dome situation in a football game?
COACH SWINNEY:¬† The biggest thing is you have different sight lines.¬† Most of the time you're playing outside, so you don't see anything‑‑ there's no roof.¬† So you don't‑‑ when you're looking at punts and catching balls and all that kind of stuff, it's different with different background.¬† You're not used to having that background in there.
And it's louder.¬† You know, you close that noise in, it can get really loud.¬† But fortunately for us, we have had good experience.¬† We played two games in the Georgia Dome last year, and I know the Georgia Dome is bigger, probably a higher roof, but still similar in that we had some‑‑ we only had 11 seniors last year, so we've got a the lot of guys back who played twice in the dome last year.
Plus we're very fortunate.  We have a very nice indoor facility here that we'll practice in all week.  We'll pipe in a bunch of music and noise and really challenge our guys, and that's how we'll prepare them.  That's the best thing you can do.
The biggest difference is just the visual effect of the roof over the top and the enclosed roof causing the noise to be a little louder.

Q.  What about the Syracuse offense?  What do you see in them?  I know they can rack up the points.  I know they played Tulane and Wagner, but in Penn State, what do you see in their offense?
COACH SWINNEY:  They run the football.  They don't hold the ball at all.  They've only given up four sacks.  Part of that is a function of what they do in their passing game.  That ball is out quick.  A lot of quick gain.  A lot of throws in rhythm.  They're not a big dropback, stand there, sit in the pocket type of deal.  And then they want to pound the rock.
They do a great job.  I think they're very well coordinated.  They've got an excellent scheme.  Play very physical up front.  That's their style of play.  Mostly what we call an 11 personnel primarily, but they'll mix it up.
It all starts with the guys up front, and I'm impressed with the guys that they got.

Q.  Good luck on Saturday.
COACH SWINNEY:  Okay, thank you.

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