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December 30, 2015

Dabo Swinney

Bob Stoops

Miami Gardens, Florida

DABO SWINNEY: Good morning. Hope everybody is doing well, enjoying your trip down here. Looking forward to finally getting to the game tomorrow. Today is like a normal Friday for us, for a typical week standpoint, so really try to get everybody dialed in and focused on the final details of the plan and kind of do what we do on a typical Friday as far as meetings and game prep, and then what we do tonight, and then get ready to play tomorrow. But really looking forward to it.

I know everybody is going to probably ask about the three guys that won't be with us. You know, when you don't do the right things, there's consequences. It's just really that simple. It's not a very complicated matter at all, just got 115 guys, and 112 of them did what's right and three of them didn't. So they don't have the opportunity they forfeit the opportunity and the privilege to be a part of the game.

I really hate it for them. They're the ones that really have to deal with the consequences because they're missing out on a great opportunity. So it's really not anything else much to add to that, other than the fact that I'm really proud of our team, really proud of how these guys have handled themselves. Again, it's unfortunate that three guys get the headlines, but the headlines aren't about all the other good things that the other 112 guys are doing. But that's the way society is, too. Just comes with the territory.

But we'll be excited about getting our team meeting going this morning and moving on with our day. Looking forward to playing Oklahoma. What a great football team. You know, we've talked and talked and talked. I'm really not sure what else y'all have to say since we spent an hour together yesterday, but I'll take your questions.

Q. Dabo, now that Cain has been suspended, what's your plan at wide receiver? How is the two deep going to look?
DABO SWINNEY: Charone Peake is our starting wide receiver, so nothing changes there, and Trevion Thompson is the backup, so both of those guys would have played a lot anyway, but Charone Peake is the starter, so really no change. All those guys are backups.

Q. How does this not become a distraction for the team?
DABO SWINNEY: Why would it be a distraction? It doesn't have anything Jay Jay McCullough and Lakip and Deon don't have anything to do with Shaq Lawson and how he plays his game, doesn't have anything to do with the rest of those guys. It's not a distraction at all. It's a distraction for me because I have to answer questions about three guys that break our rules, and I have to deal with it, but that comes with my job. Those guys, they're focused on doing what they do. Has nothing to do with them.

Q. Your offensive line has come along throughout the season, and I know you're pleased with it. Where would you rate this offensive line coming into this Oklahoma game compared to the one last year?
DABO SWINNEY: Better. Not even close. Way better in every facet.

Q. Wow.
DABO SWINNEY: More talented, more depth, way more flexibility, more commitment. I mean, just a better group. Better chemistry.

Q. When you find some comfort with losing a guy the caliber of Deon Cain, over the course of the season you've had a lot of other wide receivers step up. Does that help that you've had other guys on the big stage that have produced?
DABO SWINNEY: It helps that we've got a big roster and we have a lot of good players. Last time we were down here playing in the stadium, Deon Cain wasn't with us, either. It just helps that we recruit well and we've got a lot of good players.

Q. Deshaun Watson obviously gets a lot of praise and talk about your offense, but Wayne Gallman is a 1,300 yard rusher. Could you talk about him and the impact he'll have tomorrow night?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I think he's is he around 1,400 yards? Yeah, he's 1,400 yards, and he's been a special guy for us. He's been a workhorse, really. The combination of he and Deshaun have really given us a great rushing attack, has made us very balanced and very difficult to defend. It sets up all the other things that come along with our offense, a lot of the big plays flow off of our running game. But Wayne is just one of those guys that really doesn't say a whole lot, but you notice him all the time. You hear about how he practices, his attention to detail from a preparation standpoint, and then just how he plays on game day. I mean, he is a driven he had 160 something yards in the second half of our last game. I mean, he was just relentless. That's how he is every single day. Really, really talented player. Young player.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with Terry Don Phillips and the faith he showed in you seven years ago?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, my relationship with Terry Don Phillips started as just an assistant coach when I came to Clemson, and he gave me an opportunity to be an interim. One of the things that I always tell people is because if you know Terry Don, you know he's not a man of many words. He doesn't say a whole lot. But the day that he made me the interim and I went into his office really expecting for him to just say, hey, do the best you can do and try to get the next guy to keep you or whatever, but it was his message to me was, hey, look, I've watched you for five and a half years, and I think you're ready for this job, and he said, I'd love to see you get the job, but you're going to have to win some games. He told me that for the next seven weeks I want you to be the head coach. I don't want you to be the interim head coach. I want you to do whatever you think you need to do to fix this, was his words, and I'm going to support you.

And at the end of this, you're going to get an interview, regardless of whether you win one or win them all, you're going to get an interview for this job, and he said, I'm going to hire the best guy for the job. But I want you to know, I've watched you, and he said, you would be a great fit here.

So I go into the meeting with one mentality and I come out of the meeting with this empowered attitude and confidence of, let's go. Just kind of embraced the opportunity.

I was really shocked by that to be honest with you, because again, you know, he's just kind of an old school guy. So I tell people all the time, just be great at whatever you're doing because you never know who's paying attention. You never know.

And then to always be ready for your opportunity, and I'm thankful that I was prepared and ready for that moment and had a bunch of good players that rallied around me. Forever grateful for Terry Don Phillips. I certainly wouldn't be here. A lot of people in my life that have helped shape me and provided opportunities for me to be where I am, and he's definitely one of them. I wouldn't be here without that opportunity.

Q. It was kind of a weird thing with Huegel on the field goals this year but struggled on the extra point, and now with Lakip watching from home, I guess, are you a little concerned about that tomorrow?
DABO SWINNEY: No, no, we'll just roll with Huegel.

Q. Any update on the three suspended players as far as moving forward and what it means for their careers at Clemson, and then if you guys were to play in the championship game, do you know if they'll be available?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, none of those guys those guys have all forfeited their opportunity to be with us for any postseason play. Ammon is a senior so he's graduated already, and Jay Jay is not a senior but he'll have an opportunity to come back to school next week and he's got a chance to graduate by the summer, and then he'll have an opportunity to move on if he wants to play somewhere else next year, he'll have that opportunity to do that, but he won't be back with us at Clemson. Deon will have the opportunity to come back to school and rejoin the team at some point if he grows up and does what he needs to do. If he doesn't, then he won't. So really pretty simple.

Q. Both quarterbacks are so good at escapability. Talk about the goal of trying to contain Baker and his ability to keep him from just making plays on his feet outside of the pocket.
DABO SWINNEY: I'm open for any suggestions that you want to share my way here. That's easier said than done. And same thing for them. Our guys, they're very similar in that regard, that they're both great creators with the ball in their hand. But Mayfield, and he's a tough guy. He's not a very big guy, but he is strong, especially with his lower body, really difficult to tackle. You see a lot of people that you think have him, but they don't have him, and the biggest thing somebody was asking me yesterday, what do you worry about the most with him, and you just look at the clock, and it's three seconds, four seconds, five seconds, six seconds. He just extends plays, and you can't cover guys forever.

And then there's a lot of plays where the defense really had him, to be honest with you, whoever that opponent was. They had him. On the board, it looked great. But that guy still has to tackle him, and again, that's easier said than done.

He's a great football player. He's got great instincts for the game. He really understands all the nuances of their offense and what they do. But his ability to create really makes him special. So our ability to hopefully minimize that and make him kind of play on schedule is going to be a key part of the game.

Q. You said that you felt confident the day you were named the interim coach, that you were empowered. Was there ever a moment where you thought, what have I gotten into here, am I ready for this, and just how much growth has it taken on your part to go from being the guy who was the interim coach to being the guy who's here today?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, yeah, there was a moment. I've talked about that a lot, especially when I go and speak and give my testimony and things like that. It happened on a Monday, and I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep Monday and Tuesday, and then Wednesday there was just a lot happening in a short amount of time. I come to the office on Thursday morning. It was about 5:30 in the morning, and I probably had about two hours of sleep, and just that Wednesday, one of the things that I had done is I had moved back then we were in another building and we were all on kind of this thoroughfare hallway, and everybody just kind of walks up and down the hallway, and I tried to stay in that office, but I realized after Tuesday that it just wasn't going to work. I couldn't get anything done.

And so I'm going to move just what I needed down there to I left my stuff in there but I took what I needed to take and just kind of set up in Coach Bowden's office, where I could have a little bit of privacy to do some work.

And so I moved in there like Wednesday afternoon or Wednesday night after practice, and so I come in on Thursday morning, and I don't know, I just was overwhelmed that particular morning when I got up. I was exhausted, and it was dark and I was driving to work, and I always pray when I go to work, and you know, I just had a moment of just, man, like anybody, just what have I I don't know if I can do this. I mean, I was just worn out, emotional and all those things.

But I'll never forget it because and this is just how I live my life and it speaks to what I believe in, but I pulled into the parking lot, and I had never parked over in Tommy's spot, obviously. I always parked down on the left and would walk into the office. So I pulled around because I had a key right there to that door, and when I pulled into the parking lot and my lights hit the curb, and the curb lit up, and I had just prayed all the way to work that morning driving for just wisdom and confidence and clarity, and my lights hit the curb, and the No. 88 lit up on the curb in that particular parking spot, and that was that was really the last moment for me, because it was just kind of to me, that was my college number, and it was just like, God was just kind of tapping me on the back, putting his arms around me and saying, listen, I've got you. You're right where I want you to be, and don't doubt that. You know, let's just keep moving forward.

I called my wife when I got in that morning to let her know that, and I really didn't have any doubt. I just got my mind back on what He called me to do, and went back to work.

Outside of that moment, that's really it.

Q. You noted when you sat down how disappointed you were for those three young men who were going home to forfeit this opportunity. But I wonder how disappointed you are in them that they created this for your team?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, again, it doesn't affect our team. Y'all may think it does, but it doesn't affect our team. We had a great practice yesterday. This is just what I do. I mean, it's just part of my job. I mean, when you have 115 guys, you're going to have young people you're going to have some discipline from time to time. That's just part of it. But at the end of the day, there's consequences for your actions, and we just we always reinforce that and instill that in our program and always will. It doesn't matter who they are or how big the game is. If you don't do what's right, you ain't playing.

Those three guys didn't do what's right, so they're not playing. It's really not any more complicated than that. It's just it really isn't.

When my kids don't do what's right, there's consequences, so I just love them all the same. I love those guys. They're not bad guys. Those aren't bad kids. They ain't gone out and robbed a bank or anything like that. They're not bad guys. But they forfeited their opportunity.

This is a privilege. It's a privilege, and we have rules. I don't make all the rules, but I'm going to enforce them. When you break them, you put me in a situation where we're going to do what's right. That I know. Sometimes it's easier to oftentimes it's easier to do the wrong thing, but it's always best to do what's right, and that's what we're going to always do in this program, regardless of what people think or want to write or create. That's just the way it is.

Q. Could you enlighten us as to whether this is a team issue, an NCAA issue where Deon might face further suspension in 2016?
DABO SWINNEY: No, it's just team rules. Violation of team rules.

Q. Baker Mayfield as you know transferred from Texas Tech to Oklahoma, had to sit out a year and lost a year of eligibility. Do you think players ought to be able to transfer one time from another school to another school and not have to sit out and be able to play immediately?
DABO SWINNEY: I think if you graduate, you can do what you want to do.

Q. If you don't graduate?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, if you don't graduate? No, I think that the rules that we have are good as far as just from that standpoint. But I do think if guys graduate and want to transfer, I think that's the objective is to graduate, or at least it should be. That I don't have a problem with.

Q. We've heard a lot this week about the quarterback's ability to run, but Deshaun as a thrower, can you discuss that, and is the long ball his long suit?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, he can make all the throws. He's very accurate, whether he's throwing a slant route, which is a tight window on the move, a timing play, or he's throwing an over the top type of a ball downfield, or a back shoulder, stop them in their tracks type of a throw. He's very accurate and very gifted in making all the throws.

But he does throw a beautiful deep ball, there's no doubt about it. Not all guys can do that, but he has the ability to really assess the situation as far as the technique of the defender and where he is, is he underneath, over the top, how the receiver is executing his stem and release, and he can put the ball where it needs to be. He's special. He's a special thrower.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about who gets to be a head coach in a big time college football, and I wonder what your suggestions would be. You came in without a lot of pedigree; what would be your suggestion to maybe a player on your team who's clearly not going to be an NFL player but who wants to be you at some point, doesn't necessarily have a lot of connections?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, just go to work, and you've got to start somewhere, and like I said earlier, just whatever you do, just be great at it. That's what I tell young coaches all the time. People say I don't have a pedigree, but I spent 13 years at Alabama. I coached there for eight years, and I had a bunch of good players, recruited a bunch of good players there, and played there five years, played on a National Championship team, walked on, earned a scholarship. I mean, nobody is going to for me, nobody gives you anything. That's kind of what I try to teach is you're not entitled to anything. If you want something, go get it. But your actions have to align with what you want. There's no shortcut, you've just got to go to work and then you've got to be good at whatever it is that you're doing. If you're the last GA on the ladder there, man, be the best last GA in college football. Just bloom where you're planted.

Not everybody is going to be the head coach at Clemson, but really that really shouldn't matter. It's just about being your best at whatever it is that you're doing, and how you treat people and how you live your life. I mean, those are the things to me that should matter more than I mean, I didn't I hoped to be a head coach one day, but I'd probably still be at Alabama to be honest with you. I loved my job there. They finally said, you've got to go, and so I left, and got out of coaching for two very short seasons and got into the business world, enjoyed that, but I knew that coaching was what I was called to do, and Clemson gave me an opportunity to get back into coaching, and so I was excited about that, and I was an assistant for five and a half years at Clemson and loved my job there, loved my players, just was focused on being the best that I could possibly be.

I was 38 years old when I got put into this situation, and same thing, I wasn't focused on this. I was just trying to be the best coach that I could be, and it kind of speaks to what I said earlier. You don't ever know who's paying attention, and it's the networking, it's the relationships along the way, again, doing things the right way. Ultimately those things will mount up.

Life is about decisions that you make. Always has been, always will be, especially those decisions you make when you're younger, especially this critical time that we have with our players, because it affects you down the road. That's what we try to teach with our guys. But for me, I got the job when I was 38, and I was still a very young coach. I'm 46 now. I'm still a young coach, but I've had a lot of experience now at being a head coach. It's not something that you go to a seminar and get. I mean, you can train and prepare, and I feel like I did a good job of that from the day I got into coaching in preparing for an opportunity to one day be a head coach, but until you do it, you know, the real thing is a lot different than the simulator.

I certainly have grown in that aspect a lot over the last seven plus years.

The other thing is you've got to get your education. If you don't get your degree, you can't do what I do. You know, you've got to be qualified, and football is such a small part so many guys focus on the ball while you're in the moment of college, which is something else that we try to teach we all know that. We know how small four or five years is. It's such a small window of our lives, brief, brief moment, and you know, I try to teach these guys to exhaust the moment, like just get every ounce of everything that you can get out of this moment, small moment in your life. Football is going to end. Some of these guys will play a little bit longer but not long, but the networking, the relationships, establishing your core values on what you're going to live your life on, those are the things that are going to matter. So that's what I would say.

Q. You said you were going to roll with Huegel. You've obviously been rolling with him all season long. How has your comfort level grown with him since he was put in the situation to start the season?
DABO SWINNEY: Are you kidding? He made All American. He wasn't even on the roster. It's funny, we showed a I don't know who did it, but we do a little video of the day about every day, and one of the video of the days was a video game, like they had taken a video game that Clemson and Oklahoma had played, and it was hilarious. The guys watched it themselves, but the guy that made the field goal was Lakip. I've been kidding Huegel, you've got to be on the roster in the summer to get on the video game. He wasn't even on the video game, but he made All American, so my comfort level is pretty good.

Q. Trevion is a guy who has not necessarily had the hugest role throughout the year. He made that big catch against South Carolina. As his role potentially gets bigger here in the playoff, what have you seen from him over the course of the year that gives you confidence he's ready to take on that role?
DABO SWINNEY: Great player. Got every attribute that you that's why we recruited him. Incredibly talented, gifted receiver. Just another one of those guys that we have. He's had some he's just a freshman. He's had some big moments for us, but he's been one of those guys that has improved each and every week, to be honest with you. He's just been a steady guy, redshirted last year, wasn't quite ready to make the transition, but boy, he's had an excellent fall for us, and he's going to have a bright future. Very capable of making any play that we need. That's why he was in there on third and 8 in probably the biggest play one of the biggest plays of the season there at the end of that South Carolina game, and got all the confidence in the world in him.

Q. I'm curious, as Deon emerged as a deep threat for Deshaun, what was Deshaun's reaction to learning that Deon wouldn't be available to him, and I guess how does that fit into the way Deshaun reacts to any and all situations?
DABO SWINNEY: No reaction. Just went to practice. Just more balls for Charone. We just rotate those guys, but it just means Charone is going to play more snaps, and that's our starter, so we'll be okay.

Q. If you were to foresee a guy among your receiving corps who could really make a difference in Deon's absence as a deep threat, who do you hope that will be?
DABO SWINNEY: Charone Peake, same guy

Q. Besides Charone?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, that's not possible because they play the same position. Charone is the starter and Deon is the backup, and they play the same spot. It's really we just have rotated those guys. Deon has been the backup, and a lot of his opportunities is just because he's been in the game where we rotate the guys. This just means Charone will play more snaps, and he's certainly capable to do that, and then Trevion will back him up. But Artavis has made plenty of plays down the field, Hopper has made plays down the field, Renfrow has made plays on the field. I don't think we have anybody Leggett has made plays down the field. We don't have anybody on our roster that we've been playing that haven't made plays. Trevion has made plays.

Q. Mackensie has had some success going up against some really good receivers this year. What are your thoughts on that match up and him going up against Sterling Shepard?
DABO SWINNEY: Tough match up. He's got his hands full. Great player. We got a chance to study him a lot last year and really thought he was a gifted receiver last year going into that game. Shifty, strong guy, excellent ball skills, great ability to run after the catch. He's a very talented guy. I think he's top 10 in the country right now in touchdowns. Got his hands full. Going to be a battle right there. That's what you expect. I mean, it's the Final Four. There's no weaknesses on either one of these teams. These are whatever 11 run out there on the field, they're all good players on both sides, so it'll be great match ups everywhere.

Q. Can you quantify how much healthier this team is than when they played four weeks ago against UNC?
DABO SWINNEY: I don't know that I can quantify it, but I think we're really, really healthy. We're in great shape physically. We're going to be a fast football team. I like where we are as far as our injury report and all that type of stuff. But I can't really quantify it. I know we played 10 straight games, and that's just kind of you just go. You don't really worry about it. You just go get ready for the next game and do the best you can. But certainly has been great having some time off. These guys getting their legs. And I think we've practiced really smart. The guys feel good about the plan, and now we've just got to go execute it.

Q. What sticks out to you about Oklahoma's defense this year compared to last year?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, they just again, I thought they were really tough against the run last year, and really not much different. Nine of the 11 are back. I just think that they've executed very cleanly. They messed around a little bit with a four man front in the early part of the year and they kind of scrapped that and went back to their Okie front, which is kind of what they're kind of built for. But they're better on the back end than I thought they were last year. Just again, more experience, more confidence in what they're doing, and they've done a heck of a job. They're really difficult to run the ball on. They always outnumber you in the box, so you've got to be creative in how you run the ball, and you have to stay patient.

But they're not much different. I thought they were really good last year defensively, as well.

Q. Have you had to use any Jedi mind tricks with your team given what you did to Oklahoma last year?
DABO SWINNEY: Jedi mind tricks? Is that Star Wars? Okay.

No Jedi mind tricks. You got one for me? I'm open to all suggestions.

No, I mean, last year's game just has nothing to do with this game. I mean, it really doesn't. We have great respect for Oklahoma. We talk about that all the time as far as last week's tackles and touchdowns and all that stuff, sacks, don't win this week. And certainly last year's performance isn't going to win this year. Different teams. Every game is a game and a season of its own. It really is.

They turned the ball over five times against us, and we're a good team. That's not going to be a pretty result. If we turn the ball over five times, it's not going to be a pretty result.

That's just the way that game was that day. Really not indicative of the talent the talent is very similar, and that's why they've come back and had a great year this year, and they're in the Final Four.

Our guys, the one thing, young guys and these football players, these guys are smart. This is what they do. They understand ball, and when you put the film on, they know who can play, and they know who's not quite as good a player pretty quickly. All you've got to do is put the film on, and Oklahoma will get your attention in every area. They really don't have a weakness. They're really good all over the field. Punter does it all for them, kicks, punts, does everything, so good solid team, and it shows on film.

Q. There's been a lot of consternation over the targeting rule this year and maybe last year, as well. Are you in favor of it as it is now, or do you think it needs to be tweaked in any way?
DABO SWINNEY: No, I think it needs to be tweaked. I'm actually on one of them committees where I get a chance to actually talk about some of those things, but I do think it needs to be tweaked.

I do think it has worked in that it's cut down and it's cleaned up a lot of what they were trying to get rid of. I don't think there's any question about that. I think it's had a great effect on the game, and again, making the game safer and eliminating those type of plays. But I think from time to time, I think there should be a little bit more opportunity in the review process. That's where I think it needs to be tweaked a little bit.

Q. Now that the week is kind of winding down, did you do anything different handling this bowl game seeing as it's a playoff and you may have another game next week? Did you do anything different than in the past?
DABO SWINNEY: No, we prepared the same. I mean, we're not guaranteed another game, so we'd better put everything we've got into this game. I've got all these people coming up to me, hey, man, I've already booked my tickets to Arizona. I'm like, you'd better get them to Miami. We've got to win this game. That's what our focus has been. If we're fortunate to get another game and play again, we've got time to get ready for that. We've got 10 days or whatever. Most days you've got about three, three and a half days to really get your plan in. If we're fortunate enough to win it, coaches will be back in the office on Sunday, players will be in on Monday, and we'll be rolling. We'll have about two or three extra days of actual prep time than we would normally have in a game week. We'll worry about that then. Our focus has really been 100 percent on trying to win this game, and we've prepared exactly the same as we have in our past bowls as far as how we get our team ready, the combination of good on good Clemson work, game prep versus the opponent, and then really spending time with our young players and trying to develop them for spring practice. And I think we've had a really tight itinerary down here. We didn't get here until the night of the 26th. We had practice in Clemson that morning, which was really good, and when we've not been meeting or practicing and we've had something that we need to be plugged into, we've been engaged in that, and I think it's important.

The Orange Bowl folks do an unbelievable job, and they work really, really hard to create a great event, and I think it's important that we participate. We had the FCA breakfast yesterday morning. I think they had Dave & Buster's last night, so we've done the things that have been on our itinerary, but today is about getting locked in. These guys have kind of had their normal process as far as how we prepare.

We just keep them dialed in on, okay, today is a team Thursday; today is focus Friday. So they can mentally kind of stay in the same routine.

Q. You have great fans. You're closer than Oklahoma. You'll have a crowd advantage. Have you guys talked about that, and what do you expect?
DABO SWINNEY: No, we haven't talked about that, but I expect we'll have a great crowd. I'd be shocked if we don't. Wherever we go, we have a great crowd. Our guys know that.

But no, we haven't spent any time talking about the crowd. That doesn't really matter. I mean, we spend all of our time talking about how we play, and that's it.

Q. You told a great story about how you were led to know this was your moment by faith. I'm just curious, Arian Foster kind of created a little bit of a stir when he said he was an atheist. If in your recruiting of an athlete, a kid, and he came to you at one point and said, I respect you but I don't believe in God, would he still have a spot in your program?
DABO SWINNEY: (Laughing).

Q. Just in general?
DABO SWINNEY: Absolutely. You know, my job is to win football games. We're going to always recruit and play the best football players. That's an easy question. I've got we don't play the best Christians. I've said that many times. If we played the best Christians, I wouldn't be sitting here. (Laughter.)

I can guarantee you that. But as a Christian, I love everybody. I really do. I don't judge other people. I think it's important that everybody has they can be who they want to be. I just know how I'm called to live my life, and I try to be consistent with that, be who you are. Whoever you are, be who you are. I've coached a bunch of atheists I'm sure along the way, a ton. That wouldn't have anything to do with it.

BOB STOOPS: I would just like to extend our thanks to all the Orange Bowl Committee people that have organized our trip. It's been a great few days. All the people at Barry University where we've practiced have been just outstanding. Everybody at the hotel, the Donald Trump Doral. I don't know all of it, but the people are fabulous. You know where it is. Everybody has just been so outstanding. It's been really well run, well organized, and again, our facilities to work in have just been exceptional.

So we've had a really good week. I'm really proud of our players, the way they've come to meetings, the way they've handled themselves in all the functions they've been involved in, and the way they've come to practice. I feel like we've had a great four or five days of practice. We've had a lot of good work against each other, competitive work, good on good, along with some definite some scout work, of course, for Clemson, and feel like we're in a great position coming into the game.

All the respect in the world to Coach Swinney and his staff and their team, the only undefeated team in the country here, you know, and No. 1 in the country. They've got excellent players across the board on offense and on defense. They do a great job. So it'll be a big challenge. We are very aware of that.

But in the same way, our players are very focused and confident in the way we've been playing, and hopefully we can come out and play our best game of the year here Thursday night.

Q. You've gone against some of the best pass rushers in college football and the Big 12 in your season, in Lawson, and you have one of your roster in Striker. Can you talk about how difficult it is to try to contain a guy that's really the focus of their defense and a guy that's really good at getting off the edge?
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, you've got to do a great job with your technique. You know, if you're late off the ball or if you take a poor step, he's going to beat you. He's just got excellent power to go with quickness and speed. You know, he plays with great technique.

Our guys matching up with him are going to have to do that. They're going to have to play with great technique and execution.

Timing is a factor in it. You know, Baker and his ability hopefully to get the ball out, hopefully we can get open in a quick way and get the ball out quick, and Baker is going to have his moments where he's not going to do that, and he's going to start running around and hopefully he can make them miss him and get away from them, too. He has a way of doing that.

Q. Deshaun Watson is obviously a dynamic player, and you've faced other run pass quarterbacks, but just some of the things that you have to do to contain him, a guy that can throw and run?
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, first, in all critical situations, it's him that's going to have the ball. You know, quarterback running game or boots, those kind of they like to get him out of the pocket on boots in critical situations, third and shorts, fourth and shorts, as well as run him. So we've got to do a great job on the quarterback run game, and then contain him. When he pulls the ball down, when he's trying to throw it, he can make some great plays when he pulls the ball down and runs, as well, so we've got to do a great job staying in front of him.

Q. Baker is an emotional guy, and all the hype for this ballgame, you could see him maybe being over amped. Do you talk to guys about being able to throttle it back?
BOB STOOPS: You know, yes and no. Baker is a very smart player, and everyone said the same thing before he played Texas Tech: Oh, he's going to be super amped for this game. Well, he played great, and I asked him about it, he says, no, Coach, I understand that doesn't do well for me. Play like you've been playing all year. I'm sure Coach Riley will visit with him about it, and play within yourself.

For a quarterback to be overly amped doesn't always work. I often tell them when the guys are getting all juiced up, find your corner to collect yourself and get away from it because it's a little bit different animal to be the quarterback and all that they have to think of and operate in, and he's done a great job of it, though, so I trust he'll handle it the right way.

Q. Dabo Swinney had to send three players home for disciplinary action yesterday. Have you had any players have any disciplinary problems since you guys have been here in South Florida?
BOB STOOPS: We have not.

Q. Do you expect that to have any impact on them? Does it change any particularly with three guys, kind of a key receiver for them being out, change anything you guys do?
BOB STOOPS: It won't change anything we do, no. I'm sure they'll have another excellent player in there running routes.

Q. You've made other changes, offensive coordinator, during your time at Oklahoma. How hard is that, and how long did you feel like it took to get comfortable and on the same page?
BOB STOOPS: You mean this year?

Q. Yes.
BOB STOOPS: It took a little while, obviously. The obvious games are Tennessee, we really didn't get it going until the middle late in the third quarter, and then the Texas game we were very inconsistent, as well. I think some of it, Coach Riley, along with the offensive coaches, we were helping a young, inexperienced offensive line along with an inexperienced fullback/tight end come along, to gel, to communicate together, to see things the same way in how they were identifying blocks and who they were going to. That took a little while.

And then I think also Coach Riley just personnel wise figuring out the combinations to be on the field at the same time and to limit he really then started limiting our substitution patterns and how we substituted, and that allowed for more tempo, and we started to be more efficient that way.

You know, and rightfully so, when you have a new coordinator who's figuring out all his pieces, you need more than just spring practice because different teams are going to attack you differently, and it just took a few games to midway through the season to get the right combinations in there and for some of those younger guys to mature and grow. Once they started to grow and we started to figure out the best substitution patterns for us to be in.

Q. Difference in philosophy go into that, too?
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, all of that, and then it started to click, and then we started to really hum.

Q. Your team in the last four or five weeks of the season is playing the most physical football in college football. How difficult is it to stay that physical throughout bowl practice?
BOB STOOPS: Well, you know, we've really practiced a lot like we did the last four or five weeks of the year, where we really got because we've been healthy, we've been able to challenge each other. We have a lot of team periods not a lot, but a couple every day, that we keep score, and whether it's third downs, whether it's first downs, whether we have a team run period, we have some two minute drill or down periods, a two point play where we really challenge each other and see who's going to win. And I feel like when we did that through the back half of the season, we continued to get better. So we hope we've made each other better here even in the last few weeks, the way we have kind of competed against each other. So we've practiced in the same manner. So hopefully we can have some of the same results.

Q. Could you talk about the season? You've got work to get done. Obviously you want to win two more games, but talk about how satisfying the season has been considering how last year went, and also you've had people on the outside saying we've seen the best of Bob Stoops, and obviously you've had a bounce back year. Can you talk about that?
BOB STOOPS: You know, there's not a lot to say about it. You know, what we've done is what we've done. It's pretty evident that a lot of that isn't true, that we've got a strong program. It wasn't nearly as weak as people wanted to say it was a year ago. Again, I had to remind everyone just the year before we had just won the Sugar Bowl and were sixth in the country. You have some bad breaks. You get a few things that don't go your way, and you have you go 8 5. That isn't our standards, and listen, I'm the one who set the standards. They're not acceptable to me, either, when that happens.

But players, you know, took heart to it. They had a lot to do with realizing that coaches only do so much, and their actions and what they do on the field, they ultimately make or don't make plays, and they had some meetings even in the wintertime leading up to our workouts that they really were going to hold each other accountable to standards of our work ethic and the way we prepare and the way we play, and it's made a difference. They really have made a big jump this year in the way we've competed on the field.

You know, in the end, is it satisfying? Sure, but it would be if we had won 11, 12 games a year ago. It's still great to be in this position, to be chasing the National Championship here so late in the year. So anyway, it's a fairly young team, so hopefully we can just keep growing from it.

Q. Tickets are distributed evenly or made available evenly, but Clemson will have a larger fan base here. What have you done in preparation for that?
BOB STOOPS: You know, just you pipe in noise and music into practice just like we do any time we're going on an away game. We're used to that. We played in front of 105,000 at Tennessee.

You know what I like, for whatever reason, too, the back half of the year, our best games have been on the road. I'm kind of glad we're all the way down here. I think we've really been the most focused and played maybe the best when we've been on the road.

Q. Two things: Do you like playing on New Year's Eve? And secondly, is it more difficult there's been a lot of talk about how you get to be a head coach in this business. Is it more difficult or is the route more difficult now than let's say when you were beginning your journey, and if there was somebody on your team, a kid, not necessarily a big time player, who would like to be a coach, do you think it's a lot more difficult now than it was when you started?
BOB STOOPS: First, I do like playing New Year's Eve because that's when we're going to play (laughter.) And is it more difficult to enter into the coaching world today?

Q. And ultimately get to be a head coach.
BOB STOOPS: Well, it's always been difficult to become a head coach. I'll be honest, I never had that as my goal. I just loved coaching and wanted to do a really good job wherever I was. I always had great relationships with my players, loved the competitive part of it. I never thought about being a head coach.

And then the better you do or the more exposure you get, all of a sudden people are calling you about being a head coach, and then you start wondering, well, maybe I will. That's sort of how it happened for me.

So I think it's always it's tough. There's just not a lot of those jobs. And you know what I think, too? I felt this way: I wasn't going to take one unless it was the right one. I didn't want to just take a job to be a head coach and not be in a very positive situation. That was my feeling, because I loved too much what I was doing at the time. At that time when people started asking about that, I was working for Coach Spurrier at Florida, and I loved going to work every day and loved what we were doing.

So anyway, as far as assistants, I think it is tougher today. You're only limited to two graduate assistants on each side of the ball. I think when I started in football at Iowa, we had five or six on each side of the ball. We had a bunch of former players, all of us that were in one room together sharing desks, breaking down film, but we all had opportunities to pursue then coaching, so I was lucky Coach Fry and Coach Bill Brazier, my defensive coordinator, told me this is what I needed to do, and I trusted them and did it.

Q. The Sooners open as a three and a half point favorite in this game. Are you comfortable being the favorite in this game, especially against an undefeated No. 1 team?
BOB STOOPS: I don't really care about that. I think we were favored last year, and obviously those people didn't see last year's game. (Laughter.)

It isn't something I ever pay attention to.

Q. Sterling Shepard said that there have been a lot of, in team sessions, watching film of that game, and he says he sometimes watches it privately. How have you orchestrated it this week to use that as a motivator?
BOB STOOPS: Well, I think as much as anything, it's segments of the game and all parts of the game, this is what we experienced, this is what we did. This is how I coached, this is how you played. And by our standards, it isn't acceptable, regardless of who we're playing, this isn't Oklahoma football the way we need to play, so we need to make sure that we perform better than this.

Q. I'm sure if you recast the votes today, Baker would easily be a team captain for you, but when you look at from where you started in the year, your leadership, you've got big personalities on this team, you've got earnest guys. What's it been like to watch this team develop? You talked about big wins on the road, this team has had a lot of adversity being in the airport at Kansas State, going to Kansas State. What's it been like watching the chemistry develop on this team?
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, a real joy. One of my really all time favorite years because of the players. Just their interaction and respect for one another, the way they listen to us, to the coaches, and you know, their intensity and focus, and you're right, we have a lot of strong personalities, not just the captains. I mean, you've got other guys as you said, you've got Baker, you've got Sterling Shepard, you've got Zack Sanchez, we've got a bunch of guys that all stick out and have strong personalities and have a lot to say and contribute to the team chemistry.

And I think probably maybe the turning point in our year may have been that 10 hours in the airport in that little FBO, whatever, 140 of us crammed in there for 10 hours. We went out and got pot luck fast food, whatever people could bring back, find something so the players could eat, and checked into our hotel I think like 12:15 in the morning to play a 2:00 game the next day at Kansas State, coming off a Texas loss.

But the players had a lot of energy, and in the FBO had a lot of fun. There was a lot of interaction with all of us. It's funny when you're stuck somewhere for 10 hours crammed in there, you know, everybody is relating to one another and everybody kept their cool about it, and then we went out and played one of our best games the next day.

But a lot of chemistry on the team.

Q. From the moment Chip Kelly was hired in Philadelphia people were going to say this is going to be a referendum on coaches from college stepping up and could they do it and of course he was fired yesterday. I was wondering, in your mind, does that mean anything? Does it reinforce just how difficult it is to be in the NFL, or does it reinforce the idea that coaching in college and in the NFL is almost day and night and it's a difficult transition?
BOB STOOPS: Well, I think it's difficult anywhere. You know, it's competitive. I haven't been in the NFL, so I wouldn't be it isn't right for me to comment on what it would be like to do that. But in the end, there's probably been some NFL coaches that have gotten fired in college, too. So it's competitive, it's tough at all levels, and challenging at all levels.

In our profession, those things happen. But there's a lot of parts to it that I think, too, a head coach can only control so much, and there's a lot of other parts to, I think, NFL organizations as well as in college.

Q. I was curious what you did during those 10 hours at the airport personally, and then my other question is do you see similarities between this and your 2000 National Championship?
BOB STOOPS: What I did, just kept checking in with the players. Like I said, checking in with the people that were on the phones telling us we were going to leave in an hour, and then we didn't, then telling us we were going to leave in another hour, and then we didn't, and trying to find out where our plane was, and then eventually realized, all right, what's our strategy, do we go home? But that's a 40 minute ride back with the buses, and then when all of a sudden a plane becomes available how do we round everybody back up, so that wasn't a great option.

Had we had a night game the next day so what I was doing was strategizing what are we going to do. What's the best way to manage the team with our athletic director Joe Castiglione. Had we had a night game, we would have went home and said we'll leave in the morning. But we didn't. I didn't want to risk that with a 2:00 kickoff. And then I decided, we're going to be here, players need to eat, let's everybody who has a car go out and find any fast food joint you can find and bring back 10 burgers or bring back 10 of something, and we had everyone go out and get burgers to pizza to chicken to whatever. I'll give Kentucky Fried Chicken a plug. That was the biggest hit.

When I walked in, one of the we had one conference room, and we also spent time, the offense had a meeting in there to review practice that day, and then defense took their turn in there to watch practice, and then it became the music room. So there was probably 40 of them in there blaring music and chanting all the words and jumping up and down, and I came in with two buckets of chicken, and it went crazy.

So anyway, you can get all uptight about it, but it isn't going to change anything, so I just thought as a team we managed it as well as you could, and really ended up having fun with it. You know, that's what we ended up doing.

Q. And then the 2000 team?
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, it's a team that's probably similar to the 2000 team in that, kind of young, started the year a little bit inexperienced but grew, and you know, and playing better than everybody thought they would. We were probably ranked in a similar position to start the year that year, as well.

Q. Two questions: One, are you guys just going to bus to Manhattan from now on?

Q. It's not that far.
BOB STOOPS: What is it, about five hours?

Q. Four and a half from Oklahoma City. Police can escort you and make it quicker.
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, but you have to in 17 years of me being the head coach, that's only the second time we've ever had a plane issue. The first one was my first year there, our last game of the year, and we lost at Texas Tech where we were favored and find out the plane wasn't coming, and we had to wait for buses, and we had to bus all the way back from Lubbock, and I told my operations guy, Matt, I said, that's what we deserve, so get on the bus, and there wasn't a radio, there wasn't a TV on it. They were clankity old buses, and we rolled all the way back, about seven, eight hours.

Q. Second, a lot has been talked about the speeches that were made in the Cotton Bowl after the game, after the loss to Texas. Some guys yesterday particularly were talking about Zack's, what he addressed to the team. What do you remember about that, and how unique and how different was that?
BOB STOOPS: Well, it's just different. I just sensed a I say it a lot. As a coach, I don't want to act like we all can push every button. In the end, players ask about motivation. I said, you know who I motivate? Whoever the heck wants to be motivated. If you don't want to be motivated it's not going anywhere. That's a player's responsibility. When you're 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, nobody is going to fool you into wanting to play for four hours. You be a man and you play.

I sensed that they felt that wasn't happening maybe, that there were some guys that weren't whether it be have the fight, the intensity, whatever it is, to play at that level, and that's a player' responsibility. In my eyes it always has been.

So there was some talk just about that, about how they're going to compete.

Q. What exactly is it about Lincoln Riley that you think makes him such a good coach, and the second thing is how much suggesting, if at all, have you done when it comes to play calling and run pass emphasis this season?
BOB STOOPS: Lincoln is incredibly bright. You can tell he understands his system inside and out, so he's able to make quick decisions. I think probably the number one thing is he has answers to what the other team may be doing because he understands his offense so well.

So all of it, he's a great communicator, great motivator, all those things. He's got a bright, bright future and continues to do great with our guys and does a great job with the rest of the staff. You know, so all of it, he's been excellent.

What was your other part of that?

Q. Just in terms of how much emphasis
BOB STOOPS: Oh, do I? Yeah, I stay out of it. An offensive play caller I am not, and I think when you start trying to interject into a play caller, that's never a good idea. You know, he has a better feel for what he's setting up and how he wants to do it. All of that. As far as run to pass, I let him come to terms with it as we evolved in the fourth, fifth game of the year, that look, even in the Texas game, if you look at if you take Baker's scrambles or sacks out of it, backs still ran the ball for about four or four and a half yards a play. So we had talked just a little bit about that, of possibly let's just keep making sure that that's part of that that's a strong part of what we're doing, as long as it fits in what you're trying to do. It started to come to fruition after that, and then he settled and that was his he wanted to settle on simplifying substitution patterns and just eventually start getting into different formations without substituting, and that helped, as well.

He made the adjustments, and again, I've given him free rein.

Q. Talking to Charles Tapper earlier this week, his arm is all scratched up, and he said Zeus did this. Orlando Brown is really proud, saying he did that, he loves how much progress he's made. I'm curious how unique that is that you have such a loose team off the field that likes each other yet on the field between the lines they're serious in practice and really almost try and kill each other all the time?
BOB STOOPS: Very competitive. You know, there's so much it's really fun to watch because they really go at it hard, and they are very close, and then there's a lot of laughing walking to the locker room afterwards, who got who, and there's a lot of jawing and taunting and whatever because you can. In fact Sterling caught the two point play to win the team period yesterday, and slanting and spiked the ball two days ago. They wanted me to penalize him for it, and he said, he knows there's no officials out here. They go at it. Again, there's a lot of back and forth on who's getting who today, and it's good. It's made us better.

Q. What's impressed you about how your defense has played this year?
BOB STOOPS: Well, all of it, really. A lot of things, our communication has been excellent. I don't know that we've had a missed call all year. So the guys have just been great at the communication. We've been physical. I don't feel really there's a weak area from front to back, you know, so there's talented guys. Like I said, we've played physical. We've been disruptive. We've caused turnovers. We've gotten a lot of sacks and tackles for loss, all of that. You know, they've been a really great unit for us.

Q. The media had a chance to meet Joe for the first time yesterday. Could you talk about him being a part of your program and what it was like when he first earned his way back on the team, what it was like for him and the team to have him back out there and how much excitement he had to rejoin the team?
BOB STOOPS: Well, you know, again, it's a situation that was very unfortunate, and Joe was penalized. Joe was removed from the team for a year, and we believe as a university that you give people second chances if they can do certain things to grow from it and learn from it. There is no excuse ever for violence against women at all. But Joe, again, as an 18 year old and a person we felt, and the circumstances that surrounded it all, that he deserved a second chance, with strict guidelines moving forward, but he's met all of those. He's been a really good student. He's been a great teammate to everybody. So he continues to do the things that the university has set in front of him to do to be given that second chance.

Hopefully as a young man he can keep growing from it, and if he does, he'll be a very productive student and person out in the community if he can continue to do that. We believe overall with what we know about Joe that he has the character to do that. Hopefully he can keep doing it. But he's been a big he's a spark for the offense. He's one of those guys that has all the energy. I've said it a lot, like Eric Striker does to the defense, he does to the offense, and it's natural for him. He just has a lot of fun out there and gets everybody energized and everybody enjoys the way he does it.

Q. In regards to the comparison between this team and the 2000 team and in regards to the way the team responded against Texas, that 2000 team was a really mature team and had been through some rough times. This team is a little bit younger. Did they maybe need that wake up call to get that internal motivation that was maybe missing for this team?
BOB STOOPS: Probably a fair comparison in the team that we inherited in 2000 had been beaten down pretty good before we arrived. We were told they weren't any good. They were really beaten down, and they were sick of it. So they played with that kind of attitude, and of course our guys from last year had been kind of beaten down, and then we don't play very well, or again, I'm all for give Texas the credit, they outplayed us, and in the end, that may have been a wake up call that they needed, that there's more to this, and they've been able to give that extra now to get themselves in that position.

Q. You've talked about how much you love this team. Can you speak to some of the specifics that they've experienced together, whether it's crushing bowl loss, tackling the social issue like they did with the video on campus and all the things that really go into this being a special group?
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, it goes back to starts at last year's bowl loss to then some staff changes to now we're into spring ball and we're cancelling two or three practices because they felt the need to demonstrate, and rightfully so. 80 percent of our team is probably minority, and they felt strongly that this is something that they needed to stand up against because it relates to them so closely. And they felt even though this happens around the country, we have it captured. Because we captured it, we're strong enough to do something about it, and that was their stance, and they did a great job with that.

That was a lot. They had a lot of interaction through that time, a lot of meetings, and were very thoughtful about how to continue to approach it, and then had a lot of discussions without coaching in there that were very heated, and so, again, I think they got to know each other more, respect one another more, you know, all of it kind of continued to happen that way.

And then, I don't know, as you that was a big factor, and then, you know, just as we roll through the summer, just all of it, they just kept getting tighter and tighter. I think, just again, maybe everybody doubting them, as well. Maybe even for them everybody doubting me gets them to that they need to do something about it. All of it together has made them a really just a tough minded, tight team.

Q. What is the single most important thing for your defense against an explosive Clemson offense?
BOB STOOPS: Well, there's not one single first, it starts with Deshaun Watson for sure. We've already talked about that. But a year ago they hit a bunch of big pass plays on us, as well, and he's got a great arm. It's limiting big plays and controlling as much as anything, being great against the run game. That's always a major factor.

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