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November 30, 2018

Dabo Swinney

Charlotte, North Carolina

DABO SWINNEY: It's always great to see y'all on the Friday before the ACC championship game. That means we have had a great year. We're excited to be back up here, really proud of our football team, our staff. It's been an amazing season to this point. Obviously being 12-0, can't do any better than that.

But just it's an honor to be here and represent our division, play for the overall championship. Man, Pat is awesome. Got a great amount of respect for Coach Narduzzi, his team, what they've done. Both teams have earned the opportunity to be here, a chance to compete for the overall ACC title.

You have two champions, you got one trophy. So we're excited about competing for it tomorrow night here in Charlotte. This is an awesome venue. I appreciate all the work that goes into this from all the Charlotte folks, the hospitality. Our ACC office, they do a great job of coordinating this, making it a wonderful event for our players.

We got the ACC banquet tonight. Always look forward to being a part of that when we get in this game. Congratulations to all the people that won the awards, all conference players, so forth. It's a good night for all the ACC folks to come together. Got a bunch of legends. I think Joe Bostic is our legend. Excited about seeing Joe. We have a unique connection that we both played for Gene Stallings. Coach Stallings was his coach with the Arizona Cardinals, obviously my coach at Alabama. We're excited about it.

Pitt is a tough, physical team. If you know anything about Pat, man, that's kind of who he is. His team epitomizes everything that I think he stands for and really has in his whole coaching career. They're going to challenge us in every regard. Defensively they're in your face. Linebackers are downhill. They're pressed outside. Safeties are downhill. They're incredibly disciplined. They know their system. They don't make a lot of busts. They get after you.

I think they had 13 guys back last year that started four games or more. This is one of the most experienced defenses that we've seen all year. Then on the flipside, offensively, man, if you don't have your mind right, you're in for a long night because these guys are going to come right at you. They're toe-to-toe. I mean, they're going to get in that I-formation, backed up, middle of the field, going in, fullback is a heck of a player.

They are really good on the outside. They've done a nice job at receiver. The one kid that transferred in there, 11, I believe, has really come on in the last part of the year here. He has a huge average per catch.

Both backs, one of them is right at 1200 yards, the other one is right at 1000 yards. They just kind of hammer you. Three runs, bam, bam, bam, here comes some play-action shot. Everything they want to do is be efficient in the run game. Everything is going through that. A lot of shifts, a lot of motions, a lot of trades that force you to have to be very disciplined in how you line up.

They do a great job in coordinating their offense. You think we're going to turn around, hand it off. But they create angles, edges, extra gaps. How you fit is that critical. It's not just the front level, it's the second and third level, your backers, your run support from the secondary, everybody being on the same page. If you don't do it right, you don't communicate it right, you don't have your eyes on the right things, they're going to expose you.

Been impressed with them, studied them on tape. Again, they've played some tough teams, too. They played Notre Dame, undefeated. Played Central Florida, undefeated. They played a really good Penn State team. They've seen some tough opponents in this season.

At the end of the day they won their division on the field and have earned the opportunity to be here. It's what I tell our guys, It comes down to these four quarters. Doesn't matter what you have done in the previous games, you don't get to carry that over. It comes down to this game. It's not like baseball or basketball, best-of-seven, best-of-five, have a bad night, play again tomorrow. It's the best of one, so you better be ready for this moment.

We're excited again, representing the Atlantic and Clemson in this great championship event.


Q. You come in as heavy favorites. How do you balance that with your team, make sure they come in ready to play, given you are such a heavy favorite?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, we just really don't ever pay any attention to that. I've had that question to me a couple times. My answer is, I think we've been a heavy favorite in every game. I don't think there's a game that we've played that we haven't been a heavy favorite in. Same things that we did all the way back against Furman, same things. We just make it about us. We prepare every week. We respect every opponent. We know anybody can beat us. This very team has beaten us. I'm sure they've had that running on a loop all week (smiling).

A lot of those guys that beat us are still there. This senior class, this is their only ACC team they hadn't beaten, that they've got a losing record to. I think it's ironic, their last conference game ever comes down to having a chance to play Pitt, a team our guys have respect for.

For us, at the end of the day, it's never about the opponent, who we play, it's always about how we play. There's a winning performance at every position. We have a lot of accountability to that. We just make it all about that, week in, week out. Then we celebrate every win.

Like I said, that's not anything different. I have no idea what we're favored by. I have no clue. To me, it's 0-0 when you kick it off. You got to prove it every week.

Q. You have a couple of guys from around here. Talk about Justin and Tanner, what they mean for your program?
DABO SWINNEY: Tanner has been one of our most improved players, one of our most consistent players. From where he was last year as a first-year starter, he has been a very steady guy. Unbelievably committed. Has just grown up as a player, and more importantly his mindset of how he prepares every week. I mean, he goes above and beyond. He puts a lot of work in on his own. He's just become an excellent leader. He's a very, very talented player.

His weaknesses that he had coming out of last season, you just love to see guys -- obviously part of our job is to critique, give guys, Here is what you got to do to become a better player. He's worked on those things relentlessly. I'm really proud of him.

Justin has quietly become a heck of a player for us, he really has. Wish we could have redshirted him last year. Glad we had him. It paid off for us. He has some freaky All-American type guys in front of him, but he's quietly become a very good player. I think he's got a bright future in front of him. I got a lot of confidence in him, just a guy that fits our program to a T.

Q. Talk about Pickett, the quarterback for Pitt. What do you see on film that might give you a problem tomorrow night?
DABO SWINNEY: He's a crafty player, man. He buys time. He does a nice job of extending plays. They support him with their run game. I mean, they want to be efficient to where they can kind of stay on schedule, then he's popping big plays.

In the passing game, they like to get him out of the pocket, the boots, they love that part of the game, but he's a good thrower. He's a great competitor. He can get the ball down the field. But he makes plays with his legs. Those are things he does well.

You can tell that he's very confident in what they're asking him to do. Good player.

Q. The fact that this is now a four-year process of coming back to this event, three of the four have been here, every game you have an organized buildup, but does it maybe bring a sense of calm because it's very much routine for you and the staff and the players?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I definitely think experience is a positive. I don't think it's a negative. I think when you have a lot of experience doing something, there is some confidence that can come from that.

You still got to go do it. We still got a lot of guys on our team, this is their first experience. So I think no matter how much we've experienced things as coaches, you always have new players that it's a first experience for them. So you kind of rely on the veteran guys to help you.

But I did not have to have directions to get here. Ross did. I was telling Ross where to go, Pull into Panthers lot, go left, we'll come around the back. Kind of nice to know where we were going. Nice to walk out in the stadium when I got here. Man, it's a beautiful stadium. We've had some great moments. It's neat to be able to come back to a place you have some really good memories.

Hopefully we can do it one more time tomorrow night.

Q. You have spoken about the senior class, the success they've had. What do you think they've learned the most about playing in these big games that you don't know when you are an 18-year-old and a freshman?
DABO SWINNEY: Just don't make the moment too big. Just really stay true to what you do. I mean, I think kind of our approach helps them in that. We just try to make every game the biggest game of the year. They kind of become a little numb to that.

We don't prepare any differently. In fact, we probably prepared a little less this week than we did early part of the year just simply because it's game whatever, 13, week 14 for us. There's certain things early part of the year that we do that this time of year we don't do simply because of the calendar and where we are, the tread on the tires, so to speak.

I think the biggest thing is we just make everything routine. We don't ever try to make the stage any bigger week in and week out. We try to make every game the biggest game of the year. We put everything we got into it. We prepare the same. I think that helps more than anything with these guys. They all understand it.

But at the end of the day you got to play well. Same things that won those other 12 games will win this one. So you got to make a decision on how you're going to play. Continue to prepare with the same commitment, then you got a chance.

Q. The experience carries over, not necessarily the outcome. From 2009 in Tampa, 2018 in Charlotte, what has been the difference? What do you think Coach Narduzzi is experiencing in his first go of this?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, yeah, the first one was down there in Tampa in '09. We didn't punt in that game. Georgia Tech didn't punt either. Only game I've ever been a part of where neither team punted once. That was an unbelievable experience. I think that was new for everybody because I don't think they'd had it in Tampa before. That was kind of a one-and-done maybe. I can't remember if it was there in '10 or not. It was a great experience for us.

Then when we had an opportunity to get back in it two years later in '11. We had a lot of guys that were in that game, they wanted to finish, and we played maybe one of our best games of the year in that moment.

The main thing for me back in '09, it was my first year. I was so excited to win the division because I hadn't done that. I was excited to have a chance to go compete for a championship first time in 20 years. I kind of had it all scripted in my mind on how it was supposed to go. Man, it didn't go that way.

I think they went 86 yards on us there to win that game at the end. I remember walking off the field in Tampa, oranges were being thrown at us. I'm like, Man, this is just like man. I always told myself, God never says oops. I don't like that, but that's kind of what I live by.

I was like, We're supposed to be going into the Orange Bowl, 30 years since going to the Orange Bowl, hadn't won an ACC championship in 20 years. It was a very disappointing moment.

It's ironic that six years later we were back in Tampa and won the national championship. I think the biggest thing is just don't let one moment define you, just keep working to get better, keep growing, learning lessons. That's what we did.

I think Pat is probably the same way. He's probably thrilled to be in the game, because his team has earned that. You start the season, everybody's kind of running the race, if you will, but only one is going to win. Man, they came out on top. That's all that matters.

So I know that they're probably super excited to have the experience for the first time, they're going to do everything they can to win the game. They certainly are capable of beating us, no question about it.

Nothing matters. You don't carry over the touchdowns, the sacks, the mistakes either. It's all about this game. In championship football, anything can happen. But regardless of what happens, if they win the game, man, what a great opportunity for him to continue to grow their program.

For us, it's all built together year after year after year, just trying to have consistency. We've been able to do that. But the biggest thing that's changed is we have a consistent venue. When I first got the job, it was a different venue a bunch. Now we've had the consistency in the venue. You kind of know what you're shooting for, so you have this visualization year in and year out as opposed to, all right, where we playing, that type of deal. I think it's given us a lot of stability in our league and credibility.

Q. Jamie Skalski played in the one game at Georgia Tech. How much can he help you on defense and special teams in the post-season?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I mean, he's a guy that probably could have competed for a starting spot this year. It's kind of nice to have a guy back like Skalski. He's got three games left. Hopefully we can get three games. That would be awesome.

It's huge to get a player like that to be available. We got a couple young guys, as well, that we've kind of saved, if you will, for kind of this time of the year, we're kind of green lighting, and hopefully can get some help in the post-season from a couple of them.

Q. This Pitt team, is it much different or better than the team that beat you in 2016?
DABO SWINNEY: You ask me that after the game (laughter). That one was pretty good. Peterman, was that the quarterback? Man, they were really good.

That was a crazy game. Deshaun had the game of his life, threw for 580 yards, but we had three interceptions. A couple were down in the red zone. That was an unbelievably competitive game on both sides. We couldn't stop them, they couldn't stop us. We had more turnovers than they did, that ended up being the difference in the game. They stuffed us on fourth-and-one at the end of the game where we could have put it away and didn't. They made a great kick.

It was just an awesome game. I don't see much different. I think defensively they're exactly the same, in your grits. If you can beat us, come beat us. They don't give you any layups, they give you no layups. They're not a bend-but-don't-break type of deal. They're going to challenge you, force the issue.

On the offensive side, they're a little different than when Canada was there, but not much. They killed us that day with the shovel. They were running the shovel option the whole game, up the field when we should have squeezed, squeezed when we should have been up the field. The quarterback played great, hit a couple big plays on us.

They're a little different schematically as far as just kind of the style. You haven't seen as much of that. But they still do a lot of shifts, a lot of motions, they're still run oriented, still a very physical approach. That has not changed.

Q. I know coaches sometimes follow each other, some of the strategies, sometimes even copy the strategies. What do you know about Pat before he joined the ACC?
DABO SWINNEY: I knew nothing, other than he was at Michigan State. I knew Mark Dantonio. I've gotten to know him over the years. I really like Mark. I watched them play, always had great respect of the defenses that they had there, their style of play.

I just knew of him professionally, but I didn't know him. Then when he came in the league, it was pretty cool to get to know him. He's a lot like Addazio. There's no gray area with Pat. He's very passionate. He just loves what he does. He loves the players.

I think he's about all the right things. It's easy to see that in him, when you spend some time. He really loves his players. He's passionate about building a consistent program and being a winner, all those things. He just puts his heart in everything. I love that about him.

I've gotten to know him when he came in the league, then he's one of the coaches that gets to go on the Nike trip every year, so I've had a chance to spend some time with him there, as well, just get to know him on a little more personal level. That's really it. That's the extent of it prior to him coming into the league.

Really like him a lot.

Q. How do you feel about your defensive team's practice this week? How satisfied are you that they're going to improve on those areas that were of concern last weekend?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, they've had a great week. They responded well. We did not play well last week, but I thought South Carolina played great. I mean, their quarterback played lights out. Their receivers were outstanding. They made some critical plays.

But from our perspective on some things that we got to do better, we did not line up well, we were really poor with our eyes, and we did not play proper technique and leverage. But we played hard, played with great effort. They have some formational things we didn't adjust well to.

We've had a great week. A different presentation this week. Oftentimes in this business it's kind of professional courtesy to see if you fixed a few things. Wouldn't be surprised to see if they check, make sure we fixed it. We've worked hard.

Our guys have had an awesome year. They've had an unbelievable year, unbelievable year defensively. Had a bad night last week, but they did some good things, too. They were eager to get back to work this week. I think we'll play well.

Q. Back to your relationship with Coach Narduzzi. Will you tell us some funny story about Costa Rica?
DABO SWINNEY: I'm a wimp. I'm from Alabama. I don't like the cold. That water was, like, freezing cold. Cath will tell you. I put my toes in, There's no way I'm getting in that. It was freezing.

Dantonio and Narduzzi are out there. I'm like, I'm going to have to get in the water. I cannot go down like this. So we literally -- I'm in that water. I was numb after 10 minutes. We just hung out and talked. This was a couple years ago. We just hung out and talked for like an hour in this freezing cold water. They were like there's nothing to it. Both of them. I'm the biggest pansy you've ever seen. I didn't want to jump in, but I'm like, I have to get in this water. We had a good laugh about that.

Q. How valuable can the next couple of games be for a guy like Derion Kendrick?
DABO SWINNEY: All the games have been valuable. I think if you've watched us down the stretch, he's become a guy that's been more and more involved. He's just a great football player. His confidence has grown. The game has slowed down for him. He's electric. He's tough. He's passionate about it.

He's one of my favorite guys because he and Christian Wilkins are two guys that probably like to practice more than any football players I've been around. DK loves to practice. It's so cool to see a kid like that rolling in here as a freshman. He just likes practice.

So I just think he's going to be a great player. He's already been a great player this year, but I think he's got a really bright future. I think all of these games are going to pay huge dividends for him as he comes back next year for a his sophomore year, just the experience and the knowledge and the confidence, having a mental picture of what it looks like, what he's got to do to get himself ready for the season.

Last summer, you don't know. So now, like any young player who gets some experience, you see him grow.

Q. You just earlier mentioned playing here has helped visualize a win. I know in the past you've talked about the team meditating before. Is that a practice you're carrying through up till tomorrow? Has it been working out for you?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, we haven't been meditating as a team. That's one of those things that I think some of those guys, I can't remember what the app was called, we did that once or twice as a team to introduce the app, whatever that thing was. So I don't know how many of them do it.

We do try to encourage them. Everybody has to ready themselves. Everybody gets ready differently. Definitely encourage those guys every week as the game gets closer to kind of quiet themselves. Some of them listen to music. Some of them totally have quiet. Some of theme read. Whatever it may be, get themselves in the right state of mind.

A lot of this game is mental. The mindset, it's not just a skill set, you got to have the mindset and the heart set to go with the skill set. So it's important.

Q. Update on Tre Lamar?
DABO SWINNEY: He's good. He'll be ready to go.

Q. Talk about Pitt's running game. What have you seen since the film and watching them?
DABO SWINNEY: Really nothing's changed since I talked earlier this week. They're going to force the issue. They use both of them, both great players. One gets the hot hand, you might see more of that one than the other one. They're really, really talented. They're a lot like Boston College with the two backs that BC has, with the exception that they're more balanced with how they use them.

They're going to run all the pull schemes, gap schemes, going to run some zone, then all the play-actions off of it. Everything goes through the runningbacks with this team, everything.

Q. Tony was telling us earlier this week how Travis still doesn't know his potential, ACC Player of the Year. What is his ceiling or does he even have one?
DABO SWINNEY: I don't think so. I think he can be as good as he wants to be. Just good Lord keep him healthy. That is just kind of his demeanor every day. He does not carry himself in any regard like he's some type of superstar or anything like that. He's very unique that way. He just kind of blends in, except for when you hand him the ball, then he stands out.

He's a very low-maintenance superstar. He loves his teammates. Doesn't say a whole lot. He's hilarious, though. He has a great personality. Just a sweet kid. I mean, just really has a sweet spirit to him.

Tony has done an awesome job with that group. Really proud of him. I mean, tell him he's player of the year, he's like, What? Couldn't believe it. He's come a long way. He still has a lot more room for growth mentally and physically. I think he'll continue to do that, put the work in.

But he's a special player. He's going to play for a long time if he can stay healthy.

Thank you y'all.

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