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January 7, 2017

Tony Elliott

Tampa, Florida


Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: No doubt. Deshaun is the type of young man, I don't like to use the word 'deserve', I prefer the word 'earn'. If there's any young man in the country more deserving, I'd like to meet him. You're talking about a young man that's done everything right, on the field, off the field, stands for everything right. He's going to change the whole landscape of his family generations to come in the Watson family. He's the poster child for a guy that does everything right.

If you want to throw out the word 'deserve,' I think he definitely deserves it. We know it's bigger than deserving, it's about earning.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: None (laughter).

Well, I mean, we've seen some 3-4 defenses. Earlier in the season we saw a lot of what we call the Okie defense. Teams over the last couple years, seems like it's a bigger trend to play a lot more 3-4, but to shade your defensive ends in a head up to an inside shade on your tackle. We see a lot of that early in the season. Troy did a lot of that. Wake Forest does some of that in the past. Everybody is doing it now on third down. You're seeing it pretty much in everybody's package.

Q. How does that change your offensive line and what they have to do?
TONY ELLIOTT: It doesn't change it. You just have to make sure that they know the details on every single concept we carry into the game. You have to make sure when you're preparing them, you're preparing them for that four down, that odd defense as well. There are some nuances.

That's where the game really takes place. Everybody talks about all of the skill guys on the perimeter. But really where the game takes place is those six inches between a head up on a lineman to an inside shade on a guard, center or tackle. That's really where the game is. That's where all the details take place.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: I wish you wouldn't have reminded me. But definitely. That's when we're at our best, when we can be balanced.

The big thing is we don't need to worry about necessarily the statistical number, but just the effectiveness of being balanced, keeping them honest. If we can keep them honest, stay balanced, we can get to some other things we have within our plan.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: That every one of them, all starting 11, are going to probably play in the National Football League. Their defensive line, it's a little bit different from last year. It looks like you can see by design. They want to continue to keep those two big guys inside to stop the run, be two-gap guys, but they're a lot faster coming off the edge.

I think Reuben Foster is playing some of the best football I've seen of a linebacker in my six years at Clemson. He's totally transformed from last year. You can see that he's grown up. He's in charge. Minkah gives them some flexibility on the back end. I really like what Tony Brown has done coming in and playing in that nickel position.

They run well. They communicate. Obviously you can see that they have a lot of different adjustments based on the movements that you do. But everybody's on the same page. They're never out of the gap. It looks like they're having a lot of fun, they're playing hard. They're not just playing to stop you, they're playing to score points on defense. That's what you notice about this unit. They're stripping the ball. Everybody's flying to the ball hoping that it pops out so they can be the one.

I saw something on social media, maybe they call it the Six Club. They all want to be a part of that Six Club.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: We've brought up the point that they scored a bunch, a lot of their points have come on defense and special teams. We know that ball security is a premium, not just in this game but every game we go into. We're not going to make a huge deal about it, but just make sure you protect the ball. They're going to come strip at it.

Our biggest thing is we feel like if we can stay positive in the turnover margin, we have a good shot to win the football game.

Q. Could you imagine the challenge that Sark has?
TONY ELLIOTT: I kind of was in that situation with my first go-round. Chad departs right after the South Carolina game. I go on the road recruiting, Jeff and I have to come up with a game plan against Oklahoma. I definitely know the stress of being in that situation.

The advantage he has, he's been a head coach, he's been an offensive coordinator, he's called plays in the past. He's been there all season long. He hasn't had to worry about recruiting, so he's been able to completely dive in and get on the same page as Lane.

I anticipate there may be a few nerves, but he's been there, he's done it. It's not quite like our situation when it was the first time.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: It's very, very small. One, I hadn't seen anybody recreate the line of scrimmage. They're going to hold point. Any time those backs come through there, they're going to have big 300-pounders ripping at that ball. They got guys flying on the second level coming in to tackle.

The hits are going to arrive a lot quicker. Then you see on the back end, it's like playing against an NFL secondary. The windows are very, very, very small. Because they can rush with four, they can drop their linebackers into coverage, they can disguise some things, tip balls. They have all the ways to create turnovers.

They can create it with their D-line, they can create it with sack fumbles, they can tip balls for interceptions, then they force you to throw into tight windows. Their guys are in position to make plays in those tight windows.

Q. When Chad left, what was the biggest difficulty for you making the transition?
TONY ELLIOTT: Just being in total charge of the game plan. As an assistant or even as an analyst, you may have a certain aspect of the game plan that you're responsible for. But when you're the coordinator, you're responsible for bringing the whole package together.

You're going to divy up some of that, give those guys some responsibility. At the end of the day you got to bring the whole package together and make sure that you understand all of the things that you have in your plan, all of the answers, all of the different situations. It's a lot of information that you got to be able to process quickly.

Again, Jeff and I did have a month to get ready. But he has experience in the past. Just taking over the complete control of that.

Q. Did you try to do what Clemson had done before under Chad or...
TONY ELLIOTT: We definitely went in with the same offensive plan. We did have a different dynamic in that Deshaun was out. He played in the South Carolina game, then he had surgery, so he was out. We were going in with a different style of quarterback than Deshaun. There were some things that we did have to tweak to try and put him in a position to be successful.

In the situation where if we would have had Deshaun, it would have looked just like it was with Chad.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: You know, I was a decent basketball player. Funny story is I had no ambition to play basketball. I happened to be playing in a rec. The varsity team had just got done practicing. He saw me playing pickup ball. He encouraged me to come out. From my sophomore year on, that's why I played basketball.

Really my first love has always been baseball. Growing up in California, early in my life, baseball was all I knew. Then football, then third sport was always basketball.

Q. You hate to say a loss is good, but after the Pitt game, it looks like you guys have been on a mission.
TONY ELLIOTT: Coach Swinney said it best. He said prosperity is an awful teacher. I think based off the belief system that he has and I have, we understand that adversity builds character.

Now, we are designed to be prosperous. We want to live in prosperity. But we always need a little bit of adversity to ground us and humble us to make sure we stay disciplined so we can receive the prosperity.

I think the guys took it to heart. They took the challenge. They had an opportunity to respond. Everybody in the country was looking to see how they responded. They were playing for a championship, the Atlantic Division championship the week after, and they responded the right way.

Q. With Alabama, the second guy in goes right for the ball. Is that what's happening?
TONY ELLIOTT: I think so. Those guys have a tremendous amount of pride in dominating, not just dominating, but also scoring on defense. So what you're seeing is those guys are tackling the football. Everybody's in a scramble to pick up the ball.

I think they've even coined it as the Six Club. Everybody on defense wants to be a part of that club. They're all trying to get into the end zone.

You have to applaud them for those guys. It's hard enough to motivate guys to play hard every single down. To take pride in scoring on defense, you got to commend those coaches on defense for what they've done this year.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: The first? Actually, I was on a plane ride going to recruit couple days -- you're talking about the 'Bama loss last year?

Q. Yes.
TONY ELLIOTT: A couple days to recruit, wanting to get it out of my system, grade it, in fairness to the guys. Those guys, they're counting on me to correct mistakes and to praise them on the things they did good. I wanted to make sure I had my head around it, but also wanted to make sure that what I told those guys in that locker room after the game, I was living up to.

I said, that was the hardest thing I had to do, stand up in front of that offense and console them after that loss. I don't ever want to have to do that again.

It started with, Hey, these are the things that cost us our opportunity. I want to make sure I get my 1% more. It started on the plane ride after the game.

Q. When did the team first watch the game again?
TONY ELLIOTT: The first time is the next team meeting. Coach Swinney brought them in and put the game to bed. Also went back and saw that obviously give credit to Alabama, they won the football game, but we always talked about in our program, it's all about Clemson. If we don't lose to Clemson, we're going to be in good shape.

We had about five or six plays all across the board, special teams, offense, defense, where if we just don't lose to Clemson, we're in position to win that game.

I'm thinking about three or four plays on offense. There's a sprint-out that we missed to Renfrow. We hit that, the ball is going to be across midfield, opportunity. Another first down, in position to score points. We had the cleanest block inside zone from the game. We fumbled the snap. I mean, we fumbled the exchange. Just simple things like that that we control, that we didn't take care of business, which ultimately led to us not being successful.

Q. When you watched it on the plane by yourself, what was the experience like?
TONY ELLIOTT: It was tough. After the game, I went into the locker room, I went to Coach Swinney. I just encouraged him to be strong. These guys, they gave us everything they had in that game. We need to encourage these guys and show them how much we appreciate them.

I was strong the rest. When I woke up the next morning, I just broke down and cried because we were so close. I wanted it so bad for Coach Swinney. I wanted it so bad for our program, for our university, for our players, because they gave everything they had.

So watching it, I mean, it brought a few tears to my eyes, not because we lost the game, but we were so close. I couldn't find a couple more yards. I couldn't find six more points to help this team be successful.

Q. Did you sense anybody around you was looking at you as you were getting emotional?
TONY ELLIOTT: I think so. I think everybody was a little bit emotional after that one because Coach Swinney came in with a vision to have this program at an elite program, one of the top programs in the country. Everybody just went to work. Nobody questioned. To be at the top of the mountain, to be that close, not to get it done, everybody felt for that.

Q. As an offensive coordinator, do you appreciate what Steve is doing?
TONY ELLIOTT: Definitely. Jeff and I myself were put in a similar position with Chad leaving going to SMU. The difference was it was a bowl game so we had a little bit more time to prepare. It was our first time calling plays in a game. So definitely can appreciate that. You're going into the biggest game of the year, you got to put together the whole plan.

The positive for him is he's been a head coach. He's been a coordinator. He's done it before. He's been there all year. He knows the terminology, the system. I anticipate they're going to come out playing well on offense.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: Extremely proud of that young man. He's just more appreciative of his opportunity. A lot of times when you're dealing with high-profile athletes that are told how great they are, they're allowed to get away with some things. They don't necessarily understand. Their definition of what is right and wrong may not be the same definition of the rules and guidelines of what you have within your program.

He's a young man that was never a disrespectful kid, but just kind of toed the line. The decision he made, because he could have left Clemson after that situation last year, but he owned up to it, he took responsibility. To come back and see where his GPA is, to see how he's worked every single day, no issues. He's one of the first guys in the meeting. He's always on time.

Just really, really proud of his maturity and growth. At the end of the day that's really what's important. We're here talking about football. But he's going to be a father one day. He's going to be a husband. If we don't try to help him establish those characteristics and qualities that he needs to be successful, then we've really done him a disservice by serving his talent and not his heart.

Q. When you see how much it means for him to be here in this national championship, talk about it.
TONY ELLIOTT: No question. You've just seen an extreme focus out of him. He's a laughable guy. He likes to joke. These last couple weeks, man, he's been really, really focused. He's had his eyes on the prize. I'm excited to get out there and find ways to get him opportunities with the football to see can he put on a show in his hometown.

Q. The storybook ending, to go from where he was last year, to now, potentially a national championship. Talk about that.
TONY ELLIOTT: I think that's going to be the difference in his life going forward. That's going to be what he can look back and say that this was the turning point that I made a decision to be who I'm capable of being, not trying to be somebody I'm not, not what everybody else wants me to be. I decided to grow up and say, I'm going to be Deon Cain. It's going to make a difference not just for him, but his mom, his brothers, everybody else in his family, and his kids to come.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: I think we have to do what we do. I think they do a good job. I don't know if offensively schematically they've changed, they can score on defense. You have to challenge your guys to protect the football. You have to be aggressive. You have to go score points yourself. If you sit back and are timid to call certain plays because you're worried about a turnover, you're not going to be able to attack some of the weaknesses they possess. If you don't do that, you won't have an opportunity to score points. Doesn't matter if they score on defense, your team won't be in the game.

Q. So many good players, any particular one or two that keep you up at night?
TONY ELLIOTT: Jonathan Allen. We've seen some really, really good D-linemen come through our program, at Florida State, within our conference. He's probably the most versatile guy I've seen in a long, long time. The one he reminds me the most of is a guy named Melvin Ingram that played at South Carolina. Just a beast. Could play three technique, nose, end, they could stand him up, drop him in coverage.

Reuben Foster, as I said earlier, totally different guy than last year. Leaned down. Explosiveness is up. Violent tackler. He's in control of the defense, making calls, making adjustments, lining people up. Those are the guys that really stand out.

Q. What have you noticed about how the defense changed this year versus last year?
TONY ELLIOTT: Structurally I think there's a lot of similarities. But you brought up the point I think they know they can score on defense. They're playing with a tenacity and effort level to score on defense. They're not happy with getting the offense off the field. They want to be disruptive, create turnovers, try to score points themselves.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: I think last year's touchdowns won't win this year's game. Obviously Deshaun is going to have to play a great game again this year.

But I think he has the confidence, just like everybody else on offense has confidence to know they can play these guys. It's not going to be easy. We are going to have to earn every single yard we get. But I think we go as four goes. When four is on his game, he elevates the play of everybody else around him.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: He lives it. It's not just talk about Deshaun Watson. He's a competitive guy in everything that he does. He wants to be the best student, be the best person, be the best player, be the best dressed, the best dancer. He wants to do everything the best.

When you have a guy like that, it kind of reminds you of Michael Jordan. It elevates the play of everybody else around him. When he talks, they listen. They also know when they step on the practice field, they better be ready to go to work. He's not necessarily going to say anything, but he's going to shame them by the way he's working in practice.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: Last year, probably a little bit more nerves. I'm sure I'll have some nerves as I get closer to the game. But just a tremendous amount of confidence in the coaches around me, Coach Swinney, Coach Scott, all the other guys on offense. A extreme amount of confidence in our players.

I can call the plays. But it's not about me. It's about the guys on the field executing. I got a tremendous amount of confidence.

I got to challenge myself to make sure that I'm on my game. My game during the game is not necessarily to call it but to make the right adjustments, to be able to process the information that's coming from all the different avenues that I have information coming and get into the right play call and right situations.

These next couple days are critical in that process where I spend some time by myself kind of getting into my zone and processing everything that we've done in the game plan to make sure I can get to the right adjustments.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: I think personnel-wise, very, very similar to last year. Not quite as many D-linemen that they roll. They got some younger guys. Young guys last year are now the starters.

They just play hard, man. They play extremely hard. They're talking the football. They're trying to create. They just look like a team that wants to go out and try to dominate in every aspect on defense. That's why you see they're not just set as the top defense in the country, they got the statistical background to prove it as well.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: I think it would be huge for the state. I think a lot of times our state gets overlooked sometimes from a football standpoint because of the size of our state. If you look at the caliber of athletes that have come out of the state of South Carolina, that have gone on to play in the professional ranks, you'd be surprised.

But for us to have an opportunity to bring one home, that would be huge for the state. It would be huge for our university. It would be huge for our program. Just really excited for an opportunity to try and get that done for Coach Swinney.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: In the secondary they got more versatility. Last year they were playing the same guys all the time. You see a lot more guys roll in. Because of 15, I think it's Harrison, because of his size back there on the hash, they can drop him down inside the box, bring in an extra dime guy, so they can play with six DBs, whereas last year they kept their linebackers on the field most of the time.

They can use him as a dime back because they already have Tony Brown out there playing as the nickel back. They got a lot of speed on the back end that can be disruptive. Because they can rush with four, then if they need to rush five, they can rush Reuben and still have the best cover quality guys on the back end.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: Gives them some containment on the defense, as long as they stay in their rush lanes. But then also they can force the ball to come out a lot quicker because of the rush. So now you have more athletic guys on the back end to make plays on the ball when it's coming out quicker.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: I think you got to have every aspect of the passing game, whether it's quick, whether it's down the field, whether it's shots down the field. We got to go with what's gotten us here. We have some of that. We also have some things down the field.

A lot of it is the flow of the game, as well. We'll get out there and see how things are going. We'll get to the right adjustments, then we'll let our guys play. At the end of the day scheme is going to go out the window. This is a matchup where the best players got to play. If they come to play, it's going to be an exciting game to watch.

Q. (No microphone.)
TONY ELLIOTT: Definitely. You are limited a little bit on times a opposed to the bowl games. You don't quite have as much time. You want to turn over every stone.

We've gone back to just kind of check what his flavor is, what his philosophy is, to kind of see is it showing up the same, is it a little bit different. You have to consider, too, the personnel. Sometimes your personnel is going to change the philosophy you have on defense and how you call it.

See a lot of similarities, but also see some of the influence that you saw last year with Kirby and Nick.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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