COACH SWINNEY: Good to be with you guys today. We are getting ready to play a Maryland team this week that's playing with a lot of confidence, 4-1, off to an excellent start, and have had an open date to get ready for us.
So we've had to quickly put that last one to bed. We've had some tough losses here and we’re trying to get back on the winning track this week. I have been real pleased with our guys. They've had the right attitudes and have practiced the right way. The leadership has been really good. So I feel good where we are right now; going into this Wednesday practice.
But we're going to have to play a very good football game to beat this team. And what they do offensively, defensively and special teams; they're very sound and very well-coached.
Q. If we could go back to last year for a second, how did you guys all have so much success against Middle Tennessee quarterback Terrell Dasher? What did you guys do?
COACH SWINNEY: We played really good on defense up front, in particular. We got after him up front and, if I remember correctly, we had some success and we scored a lot of points on offense. We had some big plays, kind of kept them off the field.
But I remember very well that ball game, saying, ‘Hey, that guy is a good player.’ I really felt like they were going to win a lot of games last year and I think they ended up winning ten of them. But for us, we just hit some big plays on them and we kept the ball on offense and played good, tough defense up front.
Q. Having played Georgia Tech twice last season -- and I'm sure you have watched that film quite a few times -- was there anything that they did on offense that you kind of bookmarked and said, "That's something that we should try that would work with our personnel in upcoming games"?
COACH SWINNEY: No.
Q. Three straight games now you have scored 24 points or less. What's the key to getting the offense revved up this week?
COACH SWINNEY: We’ve got to finish some drives, just like in the North Carolina game. Well, the Miami game we -- you know, we turned it over six times and just didn't make the rhythm. I think down there at Auburn we had an opportunity to win that game. They are a very good team obviously.
Miami, we had the turnovers and then we go up to North Carolina and really put together some good drives. I mean, eight plays, nine plays, ten plays; had an 11-play drive where we got no points. So we've just got to finish some of our drives a little bit better and focus on every play. Every play is that critical play.
But, it all starts with our running game. And we've got to be a good running football team to be able to have the success that we want to have this year.
You know, we did not run the ball as well as I would have liked us to at North Carolina. And I think that contributed. And then the biggest thing is we only had the ball for three quarters. Fourth quarter at North Carolina we had the ball one minute and 45 seconds. So we pretty much played three quarters of football. So we’ve got to make sure that we have the possession time. And then when we get it, finish the drives.
Q. I wanted to ask you about pass protection. You guys lead the ACC in sacks against -- or least sacks against. And, yet, it is like one sack for every 30 pass attempts, close to that. What are the factors that make good pass protection? Is that something you expect every year?
COACH SWINNEY: Good players, number one. You got to have good players up front. And, you know, a couple years ago really with the same players, we weren't very good. But they were a bunch of freshmen then. And now we have got a bunch of juniors, veterans; guys that have played. We got one senior on our offensive line. But they have played a lot of football.
They just understand, you know, what our problems are and then you have to have a quarterback that's very smart in being able to check certain protections, you know, read defenses, know where his thoughts are, getting rid of the ball, being able to work the pocket effectively, when to step up, when to flush out. All of those things are a part of good pass protection.
We have got a very savvy quarterback that doesn't take very many sacks, and we have an offensive line that's playing very, very well for us. It is a shame our record is not better than what it is right now, because our offensive line has been the most consistent group on our football team. And hopefully that will continue. They're doing a good job and they take a lot of pride in our pass protection, and that's going to have to stay that way for us to get back on track.
Q. Is it a different skill set for an offensive lineman, the guys that are good in pass protection aren't necessarily good in run?
COACH SWINNEY: No, no, no, no. We have got a good running football team. o our guys are doing a good job, run blocking and pass protection. Andre Ellington is near the top of the league, and we are pretty good at rushing the football.
So we have the skill set to do both, but you look for certain things. There is no doubt about it. If you are a balanced football team, you have to be able to do both. But your tackles, you would like for those guys to be long and they have got to be athletic; be able to really move their feet and redirect because you see so much speed coming off the edge. And then your guards, those are big, powerful guys that can; they’ve got to be able to handle those 300-plus pounders that play nose tackle and three technique.
So you are looking for size, mass, footwork, athleticism. And, you know, we've got a bunch of guys on our offensive line that are just good players and take a lot of pride. They're well-coached and know what they're doing.
Q. Just wondering what the difficulties were in defending a back like Johnny White who runs so hard and catches the ball so well coming out of the back field?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, that was one of the frustrating things about that game, is we did an excellent job of rush defense. I think they only rushed for, like, 90 yards the whole game and most of that came right there at the end of the game. So we did a good job. It is the best we have done all year against the rush.
And, you know, it was our best game total offense. They had 255 yards total offense. And you lose the game. That was the very frustrating part of it because we did some of the things we felt like we needed to do to win the game but yet lost.
A lot is attributed to all the penalties that we had. We had a bunch of penalties. But Johnny White is the guy. He had the big touchdown run against us and he broke a tackle. I mean, he is a powerful back. He runs very, very well behind his pads. He's quicker than you would think. And he runs determined. He is a very determined runner.
So you've got to wrap him up to get him tackled and the one big play he had on the 26-yard touchdown. We had a guy come in and just hit him hard, but he didn't wrap up. Johnny bounced off and he kept his feet. He's got good balance. So he is a good back.
I said that going into the game. I thought he was as good as anybody we played. I still feel the same. I think we did a good job for the most part in the game.
Q. You alluded earlier to your running game. I was wondering, do you have a specific plan as to how you use Ellington or Harper or do you go with the hot hand kind of situation?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, Andre is the starter. We came into the season with -- based on where they were in practice because. Both of them had great camps and really played well. Jamie was the leading rusher in the first game. And they will get tired and tap themselves out and rotate, and we were kind of trying to keep it fairly balanced.
But over the last couple games, Andre Ellington has been more productive. So he'll have more opportunities to touch the ball moving forward. Now, that doesn't mean Jamie is not going to play. Jamie Harper has to play and help us win. He has just got to be a little more productive with his touches than he has been in the last couple games.
So this game will be more slanted toward Andre Ellington, and we'll go from there.
Q. When you have two guys like that, is it tough to juggle in playing time to keep a rhythm? Some guys -- I don't know if either one of your two guys are -- need to carry the ball 20, 25 times to get that rhythm and get into the game.
COACH SWINNEY: Most teams nowadays, they play more than one back. But I think Andre is a guy that with whatever reps he gets, he's productive. Whether it is 14 or it is 25 or whatever, he has just been very productive. And that's the main thing to me, is the guy that's producing the most should get the most opportunities.
You know, we went into it with an idea of, "hey, let's keep it balanced" because we felt like they were both performing well. And, you know, I do think that if you get in the game and one of them gets the hot hand, even if it is Jamie, then that's who you go with. So everything can change at any time.
But we'll go into it this week with our plan, making sure that Ellington is the featured guy.
COACH FRIEDGEN: We are preparing for a very talented team in Clemson. They've had three very tough games, but they have a wealth of talent and are playing very, very well and we're expecting a very tough game. We'll open it up to questions.
Q. I wanted to ask, coming off an off week, how did you put that to use? And do you think, you know -- was there anything you needed to correct that you did correct?
COACH FRIEDGEN: Well, we tried to correct it. We'll find out if things are corrected. We spent a lot of time on fundamentals because we were fairly beat up. I had to get kids well, and, yet, we still had to get better. That was the task.
And so I didn't do a lot of physical stuff, but I did a lot of individual fundamental work with positions and we did work some against each other: We worked on kickoff returns, which needs to get better. We tried to focus in on third down; things that we're not doing as well as I think we should and try to improve in those areas.
Q. You won against Duke because you won the turnover battle and you made the big plays in the kicking game but were outgained by 100 yards or so. Is that a game that's easier to build on and fix things than one where you physically dominate and just control?
COACH FRIEDGEN: I knew Duke was a very good team. Especially, I thought they were an excellent team offensively. I thought they played very well against us, like I knew they would. I have a lot of respect for Coach Cutcliffe and his program.
One of the things I thought we did, though, in the last two games, that we didn't do last year is we were able to finish games and compete. And so I think you take that from the game, too.
I didn't think we played our best, especially in the first half. And any time you're not playing your best, and still come away with a win, that's a good night. Those were the things I was pleased about.
We’ve got to continue to keep our turnover ratio going the way it's going. I think that's a very big factor in winning football games.
Q. What's your plan for how you are going to use your quarterbacks this week?
COACH FRIEDGAN: Well, both will play. We haven't decided on who will start yet, but both will play.
Q. Are you looking at this Clemson game -- I mean, are you curious just how good your team is this year, and do you learn that this week?
COACH FRIEDGEN: Well, you know, the last time we were away, we didn't do very well against West Virginia. And I am hopeful we will handle the crowd noise better than we did then; hopefully we will learn from that experience.
I think we will find just where we are, going against a Clemson team that I know will be ready to play. It is a very important game for them as it is for us.
Q. You said a couple questions ago how one thing you didn't do last year, that you are doing the last couple weeks is finishing these games. What's the difference? What's the different ingredient this team has that's allowed you to win some of these close games that you weren't winning last year? I know it was a point of emphasis before the season. But what's the difference allowing you to finish?
COACH FRIEDGEN: I hope some of it is maturity. I think it is confidence, the fact that you do push through and are able to win the game like we did at Navy and Florida International and then
at Duke. So I think that's a learning process.
Last year we didn't do it, and this year we are. We are also not turning the ball over like we did, especially in the early part of last year. The first half of last season, we lost a lot of games by that.
Q. Kind of a follow-up from the last question. Ralph, you hear people talking about teams having to learn how to win. Do you subscribe to that? And if so, how close is your team to learning to win?
COACH FRIEDGEN: You know, I think each game is a learning experience. You know, when you have positive learning experiences, I think it accelerates the learning curve. When you have a negative one, I think it delays it.
Every good team that I have been associated with has had a confidence that good things were going to happen to you down the stretch. And sometimes you got to make that happen with how well you play.
But to me, if you don't do the things that get yourself beat--penalties, turnovers, sacks, dropped passes--then you give yourself a chance to win and that's how confidence is built, in my opinion.
Q. Do you feel like your team is starting to get to that point now?
COACH FRIEDGEN: I think we're in another stage right now. We got to learn how to win on the road. I think that's a very important part if you are going to have a good football season. And we are going to get a very big test of that this week and next week when we go to Boston College. So, I think we need to be able to take strides when that happens. Then, we will start to grow as a football team.
Q. What kind of coverage is Torrey Smith drawing and what is he doing to beat that? He is averaging almost 24 yards a catch.
COACH FRIEDGEN: Well, Torrey has been getting a lot of double coverages. When he made a couple big plans up at West Virginia, they started what we call clouding the coverage or rolling the corner up and putting a safety behind him.
We are trying to move him around some to make that a little more difficult. But they are going to be able to double him. It is a matter of other guys making plays to help offset that.
Q. Coach, you've had some success with big plays this year. Does that become self-fulfilling? Does it create a momentum in guys just trying to outdo each other? Or has it just been one of those flukey things?
COACH FRIEDGEN: I think we have some weapons, guys that make plays, guys on both sides of the ball. I think what we need to be better at is maintaining the momentum and making the easy plays; keeping us away from third and extra long and try to build some drives. If we do that and we're on the field longer, then we'll get more big plays because we'll have more opportunities.
But right now we haven't done a very good job of time of possession and our time on the field is limited. And, yet, we're still making big plays. If we can correct that other part, I think we can have a lot of big plays.
Q. You have had some success against these guys in recent years. What do you think, is there any trend there or anything that you have figured out about them?
COACH FRIEDGEN: No. (Chuckles).
We have been very fortunate. I think it is a tough place to play, but I think it is a great place to play also. I think the fans are very enthusiastic, but I think they are good fans. I know the people that go and travel to the game are always -- say how well they are treated and, yet, they are very supportive of their team.
And it is just -- you know, we have just been fairly fortunate to eek out a win. It has always been a close game. I hope we can keep it going, but it won't be easy.