Thursday, January 2, 2014 10:47 AM
Game prep is over - bring on the Buckeyes
by David Hood
Senior Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – The installs, practices and all but one walk-through have been completed. Next up for the Clemson Tigers– the Orange Bowl.

No. 12 Clemson takes on No. 7 Ohio St. in Friday’s Discover Orange Bowl, and head coach Dabo Swinney said Thursday morning that the Tigers have just one walk-through remaining.

“We just kind of finish up our normal game prep process that we go through each and every game,” Swinney said during his final pre-game press conference at the media hotel. “Obviously, we haven't played since November the 30th, so it's been a long, long prep time. We've tried to make this a normal game week from a mentality standpoint. So today - we just have a walk-through type of deal and good meeting, and then we go through our normal routine that we have on a typical Friday night before the game.”

Swinney said his message to his team has been simple – understand that this is the last game for eight months, and make sure to make each play count.

“Stay committed to the things that have allowed us to get here, continue to prepare. It's still a long time before we kick off, until 8:32,” he said. “The message is a little different in this game as opposed to throughout the season in that you know this is your last game. We don't have another one. It will be eight months before we play again. So this is the last time that this team will ever be together.

“Obviously, when you start back in the spring, it's a new combination of folks, new freshmen coming in and seniors are gone, new group of seniors. So just enjoy it. Enjoy the opportunity and the moment that you have. There's going to be a winner and a loser. Make sure you do everything you can to get yourself ready to play your very best game.”

Swinney said that other than tight end Stanton Seckinger, who rolled his ankle this week, the Tigers are healthy.

“We're fortunate. We're in pretty good shape,” he said. “Stanton, I think he's going to be fine, but he rolled his ankle. We'll see where he is game time. Again, he's had all day yesterday and all day today and a long day tomorrow. We'll see, but I expect him to be okay.”

The Buckeyes have been hit hard by injury and suspension heading into the bowl game, and may have three new starters in their nickel package, but Swinney said he expects to get Ohio St.’s best shot and downplayed any advantage he thinks Clemson might have in that matchup.

“Listen, we have all the respect in the world for their guys. All those guys can play. Number 1, to me, is a tremendous corner. Their safeties have been guys that have gotten better throughout the course of the season, I think,” he said. “We really focus more on what we do. I love our guys at our position at receiver. They're dynamic players. But they've got to play well. They're going to have to -- with what Ohio State does defensively, they challenge you, and you have to go make plays. So our guys are going to have to perform at a high level. It's been a while since they've played in a game atmosphere, so I don’t have any doubt that we'll get their best, and hopefully they'll get our best. I think it's always a good matchup for us when we look at our receivers. I think we've got a good group of guys that compete very hard.”

The Tigers turned the ball over ten times in their two losses this season – leading to 47 points for the opposition – and turnovers were a major factor in Clemson’s Orange Bowl loss two years ago. As a result, Swinney said turnovers will be a key factor.

“As far as the game, I mean, the biggest thing, if we could take care of the ball, that's the one thing you'd change,” he said. “If I could have old Ellington, if I could get him back from the Cardinals and have him squeeze that ball in for about six more inches and not have that ball go 100 yards the other way, and just do a little better job of taking care of it, I think maybe -- although we couldn't really stop them, I think it would have been a little different type of game. They just did a great job taking care of the ball. We didn't. It was a shootout type of a game. But it was still a great experience for our guys. I think that -- one thing I told our team after the game is you grow and learn from everything. It's not always -- doesn't always go according to plan for any of us in here, in life or certainly in football. It's how you respond to those things.”

Swinney then said the coaching staff has spent the usual amount of game prep working on ball security.

“We just do what we do. You coach every day in practice. You coach every play,” he said. “And you coach the fundamentals, obviously. You prepare all year long. You don't want to have any turnovers, but coming into our last ball game, we felt like we were pretty good. We were one of the best in the country in turnover margin, as a matter of fact, going into that game, and we just -- it was a horrific night as far as taking care of the ball. That's a major reason why we lost the game.

“That's just a common thread for us in all of our losses, and the reason for that is we've got a good football team, and when we take care of the ball, there's usually a good result for us because we're talented and guys play tough. But that ball is 12 ounces of gold, man, and when you put it on the ground, I mean, it affects everything. It affects momentum. It affects field position. It's sometimes very hard to overcome.”

David Hood can be reached at davidhood@tigernet.com