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November 27, 2011

Dabo Swinney


DABO SWINNEY:  We are excited about representing our division in the ACC Championship Game.  Obviously we're playing for an opportunity to go to the Discover Orange Bowl.  Coming off a tough loss last night, very disappointed in how we played obviously, but we've got to turn the page quickly.  Big picture wise, we're a 9-and-3 football team, and it's an honor to be in this game.  There's 12 teams in this league, and we've got the chance to play for the league title, and that's what we've got to focus on and try to correct some of these mistakes and play some better football, and it's going to be a big, big challenge because Virginia Tech is a very good football team that's had a great year, and I'm sure it should be a classic up in Charlotte.

Q.  Dabo, the sack problems you had last night, to what degree do you attribute that to Philip Price's injury and are there issues beyond that as far as your pass protection these days?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, I think we had five sacks, and two of them were our quarterback, three of them were on our line, and it's a combination of technique and fundamentals.  It's a combination of some injuries and just‑‑ and then also the quarterback doing what he's supposed to do.
But it's definitely a tough way to win a ballgame when you don't protect your quarterback and give yourself a chance.  But give them credit:  They've got a great defensive line, they did a great job with their pass rush because we had some MAs where we turned a couple guys loose and then we just had a couple of times where we just got beat.  We had a good protection scheme, but we just didn't win the match‑up.

Q.  Losing three of four coming into this game, I think the line just came out, and Virginia Tech is actually favored going into this even though you won the original match‑up.  You talked about the sacks, but where do you think you guys have sort of suffered here these last three or four weeks?  Where do you think the dropoff has happened for you guys?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, it started with turnovers.  That's been the biggest thing the last four ballgames.  The first eight games we had six turnovers and won eight games.  The last four games I believe we've had 12 turnovers now, so we've lost three of those four.  That's where it starts.  And then we've just not done some of the things well that we were doing well.  We're missing some plays, we're not protecting quite as well, and there's a combination of things, got a few guys that aren't playing quite as well as maybe they played earlier in the season.
But big picture wise, again, we certainly didn't finish the way we wanted to, but we did finish with the second best record in this league, and we're 9 and 3, and we've earned the right to play for the league title, and that's what we're focusing on, these four quarters.
We can't do anything about what's happened.  We're focusing on Virginia Tech, and we know a lot about them, they know a lot about us having played already this year, but that game is irrelevant to this one.  We've just got to get our team's confidence back and get our focus back on execution and fundamentals and technique and try to just get back to playing winning football because right now we're not doing that.

Q.  What have you made of Virginia Tech since that game?  Obviously they haven't lost since they lost to you guys, but have you had a chance to look at them, I guess, since you guys went up to Blacksburg?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, I've seen them a couple of times.  We played them‑‑ I guess I saw them, I saw the Miami game, that was kind of a shootout, right after us; and then I saw the Wake Forest film because we played them; saw the Georgia Tech, that was a Thursday night game, got a little bit of a chance to see that.  But they've really improved.  The North Carolina game was a knock down drag out for them, but they've really gotten better.  The quarterback is playing at a high level, and I mean, really, really doing a good job for them running and throwing.  That game seems like a long time ago.
They've won all their games on the road.  We've won all of our games at home.  So it's kind of a tale of two different stories right now.  But again, regardless of what's happened, you play your whole season to kind of jockey for the best postseason opportunity that you can have.  We've both earned the right to be in this game, and like I say, it's irrelevant what we've done, good or bad.  You know, it's about this game Saturday night and trying to find a way to win it, and that's what we're going to try to do.

Q.  When you guys came to Blacksburg it seemed like everything Tajh threw was completed and probably his confidence couldn't have been any higher.  Where would you say it is now?
DABO SWINNEY:  I would say he's not playing with the confidence that he was at that time.  I think just the pressure and the sacks, quarterback pressure and the sacks, have been a problem, and then the turnovers.  You know, all of those things affect especially a young player.  He's a first‑year starter and everything was going perfect for him, and then all of a sudden he's had some mistakes, and he's got to fight his way through it.  That's his part of the growing pains of having a young quarterback.  It's disappointing, but we've got to do a good job this week of making sure we give him a chance and make sure our protection is shored up.
I did think we ran the ball better against South Carolina last night.  That was good to see Andre Ellington.  I thought he was a bright spot in the ballgame.  And we need to be able to do that to help us in the passing game.  We've just got to do some things to kind of get his confidence going.  You know, he's a really good player, and right now he's just in a little bit of a slump.

Q.  When you guys were up there he also seemed to be playing almost like with the savvy of a 25‑year‑old kid.  Did you kind of expect that somewhere along the way there would be a bump in the road?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, I'm not naïve enough to think that you're going to have a first‑year quarterback and it's all going to go perfect for him.  I tried the best I could to prepare him for that.  He got off to such a phenomenal start.  In fact, I think he's already set the school record for touchdowns in a season his first‑ever year of starting so he's had a lot of success.
You know, at Clemson when you have that kind of success, there's a lot of "atta boys" that come with it, and all of a sudden then you start having some not‑so‑good performances, and you get that added pressure, and when you're a young player sometimes you don't handle it quite like you need to.
But again, it's about this game, and we've got to do a good job of getting him focused on the things that he's done well and can do well and back to the fundamentals, back to the basics and just get a good plan that everybody feels comfortable that we can execute and let them go play.  He's obviously very, very capable, but just the fact that some guy is not making some plays that they've been making and the pressure up front and the sacks and the turnovers, all those things can affect your quarterback.

Q.  What do you think Price's status will be for this game, and do you anticipate him being able to play a little bit more?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, I hope so.  I anticipated him playing the whole game last night.  But after the first series Robbie just didn't like what he was seeing and didn't feel good about the match‑up so we went ahead and made the change.  Phillip was disappointed.  I expect him certainly to be much further along than he was, that's for sure.  But we'll have to wait and see how the week goes.

Q.  How difficult do you anticipate it being this week to kind of avoid a full‑on panic mode having such a young team and not having played particularly well the last few weeks and having so much on the line?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, I mean, that's what we do.  That's why they call us coach.  We've got to come in and we've got to teach.  I mean, that's the bottom line.  We've got to teach.  We've got to teach and learn.  We're a 9‑and‑3 team that has learned a lot of valuable lessons that's really going to pay off for us at some point.  I don't have any doubt about that.  I think we've played 29 freshmen.  I think there's only one other team in the country that's played 29 freshmen, and that's Southern Cal.
And when I look at the film and I see some of the mistakes, we have got some immaturity showing up in some spots.  But we've got to do a good job of, like I said, teaching, learning, but really just focusing them on the next‑‑ on the task at hand and listen, hey, the season is over, and we didn't finish the way we wanted to; we can't do anything about it.  In competition it's all about the next game.  That's just the way it is.  It's all about the next game, trying to win that game, and if you can win that game, especially when you get in the postseason, then the more you win in postseason, the better it gets, whether you're in high school, college or the NFL.  That's what we're focusing on, and just, again, try to get back to being the team that I know we are.  But it's going to take everybody being accountable, coaches and players, to get that done.
But this group will have to do a good job of listening to the right things because I'm sure there will be a ton of negativity out there, people telling them this and that and all that kind of stuff, and you've got to listen to the right things and live in reality and not perception and be honest with yourself and then come to work every day with a great attitude and the will to win.  That's what we've got to get from these guys.

Q.  Is Watkins going to be available on kick returns, and was that a kind of precaution thing to keep him out of that role on Saturday?
DABO SWINNEY:  Yeah, we felt like Andre was the better option of the two just because of the nature of kick return, and with his shoulder, we're just trying not to have a direct hit on it if we can avoid it.  But he was fine.  You know, he made it through the game fine and did a good job.
But Andre's kick return was actually one of the bright spots.  Those guys did a good job with that.  But we'll evaluate that this week and see which direction we're going to go.

Q.  Just in regards to Boyd's confidence you talked about, you're going to try to do some things to build that back up?  Going back to the opener, seems like he got back on track when you got that short passing game involved.  I remember he struggled early and then threw five or six short passes.  Is that short passing game something that needs to be incorporated back to this offense?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, we have got to take what's there and we've got to support him with our running game and our play action game where you get some of your easier throws.  That's a big part of it, too.  When we've been at our best, that's what was going on.  We've kind of gotten a little away from that.

Q.  Just wondering going back to the first match‑up with Virginia Tech what you guys were able to do defensively that really nobody has done this year to slow them down.
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, we played our best game of the year defensively against those guys, I mean, as far as doing the things that you have to do defensively to give yourself a chance like being gap sound and not giving up big plays, creating turnovers.  Those are things you've got to do on defense.  Tackling well we did a better job.  We played our best game.  As I said, these guys have really improved and they're playing with a lot of confidence, so it's going to be a big challenge.  It always is a challenge when you have to play people more than one time.

Q.  You mentioned having been able to see them a couple times this year.  How different is Logan Thomas when you played him to where he's playing now do you think?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, he looks very confident, looks very confident, and maybe a little different than Tajh was‑‑ kind of got out of the gates really, really fast and looked like maybe Logan didn't quite get as fast a start, but he's really come on, and they've done a good job, Coach O'Cain has done a good job with developing him, and they're using him very well.  He's a big, strong guy that can move the chains with the ball in his hands, so they're mixing it up.
And the other thing is he's really throwing the ball with a lot more confidence, and that's probably the biggest thing that I see in looking at him.

Q.  When you guys started out 8 and 0 and people were talking about going undefeated, I know you guys weren't but people were talking about that, and the way it's gone since, how do you go about rebuilding their confidence, and does the Virginia Tech tape from October have any value at this point?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, it's a long time ago, but I think the biggest thing is you've got to look at the practice tape and see the things that you're doing well, learn from the mistakes, apply it out there at practice, and then, yeah, you look at all your game film.  When you've got a bunch of good film to look at of yourself, that certainly should build confidence.
But we don't really get too caught up in what other people are saying, all that kind of stuff, and we got off to a good start.  It's really just a weekly formula of preparation, and guys just have to‑‑ they've got to do their jobs, and we've got some things on tape where we are‑‑ we're really getting a lot of practice reps but then all of a sudden we're getting in the game and we're not quite transferring that to game day.  That's the biggest thing.  It's not a matter of can they do it, it's just a matter of kind of applying it at the right time, and that's our job as coaches, to get them confident to go do that, and right now we're not doing a very good job of that.
But our team will respond.  This is where you've got to have the leadership of your team step forward.  This is where the whole‑‑ everybody, your coaches, your trainers, your managers, everybody has got to do a good job of helping us to reinstill the confidence in this team.  I definitely think they believe.  I don't have any doubt that they believe in themselves.  They're just a little frustrated with the results that they've gotten right now, and they should be, but we can't let that beat us again.  We can't let that affect us this week.  We just have to focus on these next four days of preparation and have good practices, good meetings and build their confidence that way.

Q.  Before yesterday Virginia Tech was one of the few defenses to slow down Sammy Watkins this year.  What did you think they did well against him, and where do you think he is coming back from his injury right now?
DABO SWINNEY:  Well, I mean, he's not‑‑ he wasn't quite 100 percent, but he was certainly‑‑ I don't know how many players after 12 games are 100 percent to be honest with you.  But he'll be much closer to 100 percent this week.  He came out of the game pretty good, but they played off of him for most of the night, and Virginia Tech in particular, they have a unique style of defense with what they play, and they mix it up well with kind of conventional defense and their Robber coverage that they play, and I thought they did a good job of taking away some of the short game stuff to Sammy but he still made a couple of big plays, made a big play down the middle against them.  But he's one of those guys where you just have to keep giving him at‑bats, and sooner or later he's going to put the bat on it.

Q.  Piggybacking on that question, was Sammy a player who coming out of high school you knew you had to get on the field as soon and as often as possible, or was it something that emerged during preseason training camp?
DABO SWINNEY:  No, shoot, it wasn't just Sammy.  We knew that‑‑ what emerged in training camp was that he was going to be the starter, but we knew coming in that he was going to have to play and help us.  I mean, we were‑‑ we only had like three receivers in spring practice, so we were very, very young at that position with Sammy and Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake and Adam Humphries and Joe Craig, those are all freshmen, and some of them have played this year, Nuke Hopkins is just a sophomore.  The only real veteran that we have that's playing is Jaron Brown.  He's a junior.  So very, very young group and have done a lot of good things this year.
But Sammy was definitely a guy that we knew would have to help us, but it wasn't until we got him into camp that we realized just how special he was‑‑ we realized he was a special talent but just what he could do this year, and that he had a chance to be a starter and a game changer, and that's what he's been.  He's had a great year and obviously missed a game up at NC State, but I was happy that he was able to come back and play last night, and I wish we would have gotten him more opportunities.  He dropped a big touchdown early in the game that would have had us tie score at halftime, but he just didn't make the play.  He's not perfect.  He'll make that one 99 out of 100 times, but he didn't make it last night.  But certainly I haven't lost any confidence in Sammy.

Q.  And then you mentioned playing your best defensive game against Virginia Tech.  If memory serves, Andre Branch was just terrific in that game.  I think he had three of your four sacks.  Can you just talk about him in that game in particular but just overall this season?
DABO SWINNEY:  Yeah, Branch has had an excellent year.  He's been real, real consistent, steady player, bright spot for us.  I think he went over ten sacks last night for the season, which I believe he's only maybe one of four or five or six guys or so that's done that here at Clemson.  There hasn't been many do it.  He's definitely one of the leaders in this conference.
But he had a great night up there in Blacksburg and just kind of really got his season off to a great start that night.  I'm really happy for him.  But he has been very consistent every single week with his play, his effort, his execution, and I'm proud of him.  He should be an all‑conference candidate I would think.

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