Dabo Swinney's Tuesday press conference
COACH SWINNEY: Good morning, everybody. Huge challenge this week, obviously. Very excited about the opportunity that we have. This is a great football team we're getting ready to play, possibly the best team in the country. There's no question they've got a top three offense, top three defense, and explosive players at every position. They're going to be a huge challenge. Got a Heisman quarterback candidate, guy is playing as good as anybody in the country, and you throw all that on top of the fact it's a division game, so this is what it's all about. It's a great challenge for both teams, and I know everybody will be excited to get the game here so we can get it going.
But for us, it's the biggest game of the year, just like last week was the biggest game of the year, just like next week will be the biggest game of the year. They're all big. Some have special circumstances attached to them like this one, but come Monday, Maryland will be the biggest game of the year. When it's not, y'all let me know. Let me know when it's not the biggest game of the year, and I might feel better.
That's just our mentality. Got to have a great week of preparation, as always, to get ready for a very tough match up, one that I think is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
Offensively for them, they're very explosive, very balanced. They've got about the same amount of rushing touchdowns as they do passing touchdowns, play a lot of guys. The offensive line is easily the best, most athletic that we've played, very physical, very well coached. They do a great job with those guys.
The quarterback is special. I mean, I know he's listed as a red shirt freshman, but he doesn't look like a freshman. He looks like a full grown man to me. He's a great player, very accurate, very poised, and so far has answered every call that he's had, every test.
Big challenge with him. He can make plays with his legs and his arm.
The tight end is very involved, has made a ton of plays for them. Their receivers, they always have great skill, and the three main guys that they got are as good as we're going to play. They all do a great job of getting open. They do a great job of yards after the catch. They're physical blocking. So this is a really good group of talented receivers.
And then the running backs, I mean, flip a coin. They're all great players. They'll all play on Sunday. The thing I think they do a good job of is they keep them fresh. They do a good job of rotating those guys in there, and they're fresh for four quarters. We're going to have to do a good job of stopping the run. Obviously didn't do a good job of that last year, and that was a big factor in the game.
Defensively very well coached. I've known Jeremy Pruitt a long time. We were at Alabama together. I was coaching when he came in there as a player, and then he was a student coach for us for a little bit. He's done an outstanding job. Very well coached. They're fast and athletic, just like you think about all Florida State defenses. It's going to be a big challenge because their secondary is the best we've played, and so it's just a match up. They don't try to trick you. They line up, and if you're going to beat them, you've got to make plays. This is a playmakers' game.
Big challenge for our receivers in making plays, big challenge for our quarterback because you're not going to have guys running wide open. There's going to be tight windows, tight, contested catches, and Tajh is going to have to play a great game.
Our offensive line versus their defensive line is going to be another key match up, as it is every week, but in particular, they're very big and physical inside, got good speed coming off the edges. Their linebackers are athletic. It's just a very balanced football team with I don't see any weaknesses.
Special teams, they're dangerous, very dangerous. Obviously last year they had the big kick return on us. That was the play that really, I thought, turned the whole game, created the momentum that they needed, and we couldn't turn it back in the fourth quarter. So we've got to do a better job in the kicking game.
Their skill is very, very good at the return positions.
At the end of the day, this is what it's all about, two great teams. We've got a pretty good team, too, and you've got two good teams going at it with a lot on the line, and this is why you're in college football. This is why you do it, right here, as a player and a coach, to be a part of games like this, and this is one of the things that I hope people just know, that if you come to Clemson, first of all, you're going to play in a packed house, whether we are here at home or whether we're on the road, people are going to show up to see Clemson play.
Secondly, when you play here at Clemson, you're going to get everybody's best shot. That should be the norm. That's where I want this program to be.
And then the third thing is you're going to play in games like this. You're going to have an opportunity to play on this type of stage.
Great opportunity, and it's also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and most of the schools designate a game, and this is our particular game that we've designated, so I'm excited about that and the awareness that we'll have, to have a chance to bring to research against breast cancer.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q. You're playing at home, you're No. 3 in the nation. Why do you think you're an underdog?
COACH SWINNEY: I can't answer that. I mean, I don't get into all that stuff. I have no idea. I guess whoever comes up with that stuff, I guess they think Florida State is better than we are. We've been the underdog a lot. I don't know. You'd have to ask them that question. I guess they just look at them and they think they're a better team.
Q. Can you use that as motivation?
COACH SWINNEY: You know, I don't think that really matters, I really don't. Heck, 2003 we were a pretty big underdog, too, and I think they were No. 2 in the country at that time and we weren't very good. You know, so I mean, yeah, I guess we were fired up and all that, but at the end of the day, it comes down to executing on the field.
This is a toss up if you ask me. This is a game that comes down to a few plays. This is just like the Clemson Georgia game at the start of the season. You've got two great teams that both want to win, that both have great aspirations, and in this particular case, heck, we're talking about trying to win a division. This is a key game to try to win that next goal for us, and that's the Atlantic Division championship.
But as far as being a factor, whether we're an underdog or whatever, that has nothing to do with it. We know they're a great team. We've got great respect for them. I know that they know that we're a good football team, and we've got to just play well.
Q. Is there an advantage to having already played a game similar as far as atmosphere, 8:00, Saturday night, versus a top five team? Florida State maybe hasn't had that kind of game. Is there an advantage for your guys that they've been through a similar atmosphere?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I think your experience is always a factor for you. I definitely think that the fact that we've been in this type of setting here at home, they have a visual and they know what to expect from an environment standpoint. But same thing, the environment is not going to win the game. Players making plays, taking care of the football, executing at a high level, that's what's going to win the game.
Q. Does the presence of Jameis allow them to do anything differently offensively than they did with Manuel?
COACH SWINNEY: Not really. They're just doing what they've always done; a lot of screens, going to run the heck out of the football, a lot of play action, a good amount of drop back. They mix it up. They're very balanced. They take their shots down the field. If you play off, they're going to throw it underneath you, a lot of crossing routes. They have quarterback runs built into what they do, a little bit of option, which is the same things they were doing four years ago. They're really not doing anything different, they just do a good job at what they do.
Q. Your defense has been very solid this year. Is this going to be your toughest test? Do you feel Florida State might be more explosive with a quarterback like Winston?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I think the Georgia that we played I think is very similar, two great quarterbacks. Murray is pretty good, Gurley and Marshall were pretty good. It's like Wilder and Freeman. You can just kind of toss them up in the air. They're all great players. I think this offensive line is the best we've seen. I don't think there's any question about that. Georgia had great skill outside, although they lost one of them in our game that wasn't able to finish the game.
But this is a very complete, very balanced team, and then also, that was an opener. We're going to have to play a whole lot better than we did in that game. That's game 1, this is game 7. We're going to have to play a whole lot better than we did in game 1. And same thing: Florida State, it's just like Jameis, he's not a freshman. I know he's listed as that, but this guy has played som ballgames now, and he's been on the road a couple time. He's had big expectations at home, and he hasn't been overwhelmed with anything. He's obviously a red shirt freshman and Aaron Murray was a senior, but as far as looking at him and what both these offenses can do, both of them two of the top squads in the country offensively. From last year coming into this year and where they are right now.
Obviously Georgia has had some huge injuries that have affected them, but similar challenge.
Q. How difficult is it to go up against him when he's able to extend plays the way you've seen him do that?
COACH SWINNEY: It's tough. I mean, because you do a great job of coverage and you feel like you're in good shape. Next thing you know he finds a rushing lane and he runs for 15 yards. He can break a tackle. It's just like our guy. I mean, it's like going up against Tajh Boyd. That's why you go recruit those kind of guys. It makes us all look like better coaches. Man, that was a bad play oh, oh, no, yes, yes. He's one of them oh, no, oh, yes guys. That's called recruiting. You can be in great position, you can do a good job but you don't quite get off that block well enough or that rush lane gets a little wide, and next thing you know he's in space, he makes a linebacker miss because of the type of athlete that he is, and it's a big play. You see it with No. 10 on our team all the time. How many times have we seen No. 10 make plays with his legs when there wasn't anything there? That's why he's a great player. So it's a big challenge.
Q. Do you have to have any conversation with Tajh this week so he doesn't try to out stat Jameis or have prettier plays than Jameis?
COACH SWINNEY: No, no. He's just got to do the things that we need him to do to win the game. He's a veteran guy. He knows it's not about him. He knows it wasn't about him and Aaron Murray. It's not about any of that. It's just about playing the game, trying to give yourself a chance to win. All the individual stuff comes from great team success, and Tajh understands that better than anybody. He's probably the least talked about superstar out there, just simply because of his nature. He's not going into this game worrying about what some other guy on another team does. He's going into this game trying to execute the plan that we've put in place and give his team a chance to win.
Q. Because of how aggressive Florida State's secondary was with your receivers last year, how do you coach those guys in one week about how to handle that both physically and mentally?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, you don't coach them in one week, you coach them year round. We didn't do a good job we made a lot of big plays on them. We had 500 something yards on them, but we gave up a ton to them, and we just couldn't slow them down.
But we did some good things, but I thought as the game wore on, physically they won the match up. We've got to do better, and we're very capable of doing better. Sammy, kind of his first game back. I think he played about a half of one game and then we go down there and he wasn't quite into the speed of the game that night, and they did a good job with him. They're great. They've got great players on that side of the ball. Our guys got to do what they do. They work technique, releases and route running. That's what we do all year. It's not just, okay, this week let's work on these things. It's something we do every single day all year long. Now you've just got to go perform on game day.
Q. You talked about how you're very confident that you're going to win every game. How do you get players to believe that? How do you get them to have that level of confidence?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, it's just your culture. It's just everything you do within your program, everything. It's how you practice. It's paying the price. When you pay the price for something and you're really prepared the right way, then you should be confident. There's a difference between confidence and arrogance. We don't have arrogance; we have a humble confidence. But we've got good players. Our guys, it starts with an attitude of belief. Guys have to learn how to think the right way, and I think our guys have done a great job with that, and it's reflected in our consistency.
I mean, y'all have heard me say it many times: We've been ranked for 37 weeks or so in a row. We just won our 14th game in a row versus unranked opponents by double digits. I mean, that's consistency. You don't just do those things. We got a great streak of wins in the conference. This has been a very consistent football team for quite a while now. We've won a lot of ballgames.
Everybody still goes, well, yeah, but you lost the bowl game a couple years ago. Well, yeah, sure did. Sure did. We got our butts whipped, lost the ballgame, wasn't pretty. I think we've lost two games since then, and they were to two top ten teams, fourth quarter type games.
These guys, they don't hope to win, they expect to win. And again, that's a culture from how you talk to them, how you condition them, how you practice them, how you meet with them, all of those things. Everything goes into creating that attitude of belief. But ultimately that's where it starts. If you don't truly believe in what you're doing and who you're doing it with and that you have a chance to be successful, then you're not going to be. Not consistently.
And our guys, they believe in how we practice, how we prepare, our formula for success, and guys have bought into that. Prepare with purpose, effort with technique, all in commitment. Because when you do those things, when you prepare with purpose you've got attention to details. And when you give great effort but apply technique to it, you get execution. And when you've got great commitment, you've got a chance to be consistent. When you're playing to a standard and not an opponent, not at kickoff time or any of that stuff, then you can create the consistency in your program.
You've got to have good players, and we've recruited really good players, and then you've got to develop those players. That's where it starts.
Q. Would you be surprised if your team was not prepared to handle this weekend?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, I'd be surprised. Why would we not be prepared? We might lose the ballgame but it wouldn't mean we weren't prepared. It might be they're pretty good. It might be they've got a good team and they just beat us. If you do, you shake hands with them and you move onto the next one. Ain't nobody going to skin us and eat us alive I don't think. Might be a few that would like to, but this is a game. This is a game. That's all it is. It's a tough football game, and you get excited about it. You don't worry about it. You be confident in your preparation and you be confident in your teammates, and you go play the game. It's really that simple.
Understand going in, some games you've got a little bit more margin for error than others. That's just the way it is. This one you don't have a lot, and they don't, either. But as far as our guys not being prepared, well, I mean, I don't see that. That's not this team. This team prepares great every week. May not always play great. Sometimes y'all don't write a great article every week. I mean, I'm just saying. Most of the time. Most of the time. But you know, sometimes you have an off day and you had a typo, misspelled a word, you gave credit to that player when it was this player, whatever. We all have a bad day here and there, make a bad play.
But when you're in this type of match up you don't have a lot of room for mistakes, and that's ultimately what it comes down to. Last year we had some critical mistakes that cost us, and you don't get any redoes. I think our guys have a really good understanding of how critical each play is. Each play. As long as we play with great effort and we practice and prepare the right way, then I can live with whatever results we get.
Q. On the offenses for each team, don't games like this really come down to which team plays the better defense?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, yeah, most of the time. And we weren't very good last year. Man, I had to turn it off. It wasn't pretty. They kind of had their way with us. I think they had almost 670 yards against us, most of it in the second half. 35 points or so in the second half. I mean, it was a tale of two halves.
But you know, it was a spark here and a spark there. And then offensively we had a chance to answer, and we didn't, late in the game there. We throw a pick and we had a critical three and out at one juncture. It's a complete effort by both parts. But there's no doubt, defenses to me are the key. The name of the game is points, and you've got two very stingy defenses. I think they're third in the country in scoring defense and we're 10th.
This time last year we were 60th after six games. I think we've got a better chance. Hopefully we can cut them down to maybe 500 yards; who knows. Hold them down a little bit.
Q. You've talked for weeks about how you saw something changing in the defense, and I'm not sure laymen at the time necessarily saw it. Between then, what you just described, having to turn off the television set because the yardage was piling up against you, and now, what has changed and when did you start seeing the flickering?
COACH SWINNEY: Freshmen became sophomores, sophomores became juniors. We've got the same players. Now they're just they were good players then. Now they're good players with experience. That's it. I mean, they've been through the battles. They've grown up. We've got the depth, the experienced depth that you need in the key positions. We're much more confident, much more confident. We're healthy in the secondary. We're more confident in the secondary. We're playing 10 times better than we did this time last year in the secondary. We're still not great or where we want to be but yet we're much, much better. We're one of the top teams in the country in interceptions right now. This time last year I don't think we had but maybe six sacks, maybe, at the halfway point, and we lead the nation in sacks. Lead the nation in tackles for losses.
We didn't just wave a magic wand. We've got the same coaches for the most part. We've got one new coach, but our guys are in year two with Brent. They have a great understanding of what we're doing, but most importantly we're just better at what we're doing. We're just better. We play with better pad leverage up front, better understanding, and then we just guys have gone through, and again, I saw it last half of the season. We made great strides from the half point about this time last year to the end of the season, great, great strides, and it carried over into the ballgame, and so now all of a sudden the confidence, the success, you have a little success, it just continues to breed that confidence. And then we've added a couple key pieces in here that have helped us. So we're just better. We're just better prepared and have a better understanding of what we're trying to do defensively, and then just playing with a relentless effort and confidence, and it's been fun to watch.
Q. Knowing that you're going to face adversity at some point Saturday night, having just been in that situation last week where things weren't going your way, in the fourth quarter you were able to find a way to finish it. Can there be some value coming into this week's game?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, it's not just last week. I mean, this team has won a bunch of ballgames, a bunch of games. We only had 11 seniors last year, so you've got a lot of guys back on this football team, and only 10 seniors this year. So you've got a lot of guys that have been young players. Those 42 freshmen that we had in 2011 have had a lot of experience now, and they're juniors and red shirt sophomores. The experience factor is huge, so you draw on all of it. Any great team that I've ever been on, you've got to win some tough ones along the way.
I mean, just look at college football last week. Just look at what happened in college football. It's hard to win. I know sometimes people think we're supposed to just roll out there and people are supposed to bow down and you're the number whatever team in the country, and game over. It doesn't work that way. I mean, you're dealing with young people.
Boston College was a very tough I tried to talk about it all week. This was a physically tough, confident football team that I knew was going to be a dog fight. Now, we helped them a little bit because we made some really uncharacteristic mistakes that allowed them to really get that momentum going and that energy, and fortunately we were able to hold them down defensively.
Everybody gets tested from time to time. It wasn't just last week. We've been tested many times, and I think these guys understand that it's a four quarter game. When you make mistakes, you move on. When you have big plays, you've got to keep playing until there's no time left on the clock. Hopefully the overall experience that we have will help us.
Q. To what extent do you think Winston will be tested by your crowd?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I mean, this is a tough place to play for anybody. You know, you've got to have great focus and poise. He certainly has demonstrated that big time. I mean, he's really not shown any they got down 17 3 on the road at Boston College. I mean, it wasn't looking real good. Next thing you know, bam bam, he makes a big play, he just responded. I think he's a very poised young man. He plays baseball, and baseball is probably as bad as any sport out there as far as having to have some thick skin, and I think that helps him.
But this is a special place, and we're going to need our crowd to definitely be at an all time high and the best that it's been to try to create that energy that our team needs and also make it difficult for them, because it is difficult when all that is kind of working against you. We experienced that last year down there in Tallahassee late in the game when we kind of lit that inferno because it was kind of down the whole game, and all of a sudden it came to life on that long run and then the kick return, and it affected us.
Q. Can a crowd wear a quarterback down? It looked like Chase a little bit last week got affected by it, saw Aaron Murray had some issues with it, with time management and stuff like that?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, two things: I think the energy that it brings your team, because your team feels that, and it's a game of energy, a game of emotion. I think that's part of it. And then just the pressing, trying to make a play to kind of quiet them down, the communication part of it. That was an issue for them last week with BC. Had a couple penalties in a row, just communication. It's really hard, especially if you're trying to do on an audible type count.
Q. Corey being the other side of the defensive line coming back, I'm sure this is an emotional week and game for him. How has he gone about his business over this year and really over the last year and a half?
COACH SWINNEY: Corey has been very businesslike. He's a very mature young man. We've actually made him captain this week in honor of his mom. I've been very proud of him. He's certainly not perfect, but he's been a great representative of his family and this program since he got here, and he's just been a maturing player. It's good to see him get that big sack last week. He's having a great year. Coming into this year, the big challenge for Corey, he's one of those guys that we were just talking about, to answer your question again.
Corey Crawford last year was a sophomore, and he was a good player, but he wasn't a great player. We needed to get him to take another step. Well, here's the things we got to do. He needed to be more productive, tackles for loss, sacks, those type things.
So far this year he's done that. He's had a much better first half of this season than he did last year, and he's just a developing guy. Marion has done a great job with him, and he's got other great players around him, but I'm really proud of Corey Crawford and the young man that he is and the type of leadership that he's providing.
Q. What has it meant to the offense that Sammy Watkins is playing so well again, and is he going to have to make a couple big plays to help get you over the top this weekend?
COACH SWINNEY: No doubt. I mean, the Tajh Boyds, the Sammy Watkins, the Bryants, the Humphries, those cats, they got to make plays. You don't win games if your playmakers don't make plays. When we had Spiller here, I think everybody knew going into the game that if Spiller doesn't play well, we can't win. I think it was maybe his last year here in '09, we don't win he had 300 something yards. He was phenomenal. Playmakers got to make plays. When the Heat show up, if LeBron don't play, they've got not as good a chance to win. That's the name of the game. Your best players have to play great to win games like this. That's just the pressure that comes with it.
Everybody has got a role. Some guys' roles are bigger than others, and that's just part of it. Tajh Boyd has got to play a great game. Brandon Thomas is going to have to play a great game. Sammy Watkins has got to do his job; he's got to make plays; he's got to make tough plays; Martavis, Adam Humphries, Mike Williams, those guys have got to go and make plays; Seckinger, when they get the opportunities. Our backs have got to break tackles. They've got to run with great passion and energy. That's the only way you're going to win. Same thing in the Georgia game. We don't win that game if our play makers don't make plays.
Q. I know it's one game, one opponent for you, but how good is it that this week maybe the spotlight is on the whole ACC and how this match up can kind of spread out to everybody?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, this is what they've been wanting, isn't it? They can't talk bad about us now. We've got three undefeated teams in the top 10. This is what we have not done as a conference, bottom line. We have not produced an undefeated team, a 12 1 team. We certainly haven't had multiple teams be very consistent in that. That's been, from a league standpoint, nationwide, we've had good football, we've always had good football here, very competitive football, a lot of parity in this league, but we haven't produced that dominant team or teams to go and get in that national scene. And it's good to see our league, like I said, we've got three teams in the top 10 right now and Virginia Tech is really coming on strong. That's what it takes. You don't all have to be great, but you need three or four teams that can compete nationally.
Listen, the loser of this game is probably still going to be in the top 10 with a half a season to play and a lot of football and a lot of things and a lot of opportunity from a national standpoint. The loser of this game is going to be against the 8 ball from a division standpoint probably, but anything can happen. But that's just the way it is. Can't do anything about that.
But from a national standpoint, we win the game, Florida State ain't going anywhere. They lost to the No. 3 team in the country. It doesn't go our way, it doesn't mean we're a bad team. Nationally you've still got a chance to maybe get a couple teams in the BCS type picture, and that's what we're going to need if we're going to be that type of conference that I know we are but be able to get the recognition nationally.
Q. You've known him for a long time, but Jimbo Fisher, since he took over from Bobby Bowden, what do you think of the job he's done?
COACH SWINNEY: He's done a great job, tremendous job. We've been swapping back and forth for the last few years as far as winning the division and going to the championship and all that stuff. They're recruiting at a high level, and they've been very consistent. I mean, they've had their ups and downs, too, just like we have, but if you stand back and you look at the big picture, they've done a tremendous job at getting the key guys in there. You go out and recruit guys like Jameis Winston and the skill guys that they have and the guys in the trenches. They believe in what they do. They don't vary from it. I think he's done a great job, tremendous job.
Q. You mentioned Spiller's name a little while ago. How much did his decision to come here and then to stay here kind of lead to you always recruited Florida well, but kind of lead to a guy like Sammy really taking a hard look, you getting a Mackensie Alexander in this last class, how much did that start getting those top recruits in Florida?
COACH SWINNEY: I said this many times: When C.J. Spiller chose to come to Clemson, that really changed the game, because that was kind of put us back in the hunt from a national perspective. And when I first came here, the mentality was we can't sign players like that. I didn't understand that. That was kind of a shocker to me. I see Clemson, man, this is a great place, why can't we.
When CJ came here, and then not only came here but graduated in three and a half years, was an All American, did things that I don't even know how many records he set, ninth pick in the draft, became such a great ambassador for this program, that resonated with a lot of people, and that's been talked about many times over the last several years since he's been gone and even while he was here in the recruiting process.
He led us to our first division title and just about led us he tried everything he could to win that championship game for us, that first one. So he certainly left his mark, and he helped us kind of build a foundation. And not only that, he came back for his senior year. When he chose to come back my first year as the head coach, that really gave us a lot of credibility, I think.
Q. I talked to him the other day, and he said when he left your office before that announcement he was coming back, he said you thought for sure he was going.
COACH SWINNEY: I did, I thought he was going. I think I talked to Tim Bourret, when I walked from the meeting room, I went to the back of the room and I said, "He's gone." And then he gets up there and he says he's staying. It was an unbelievable deal. But I think at the end of the day, it's what was in his heart. It's what was in his spirit.
You have to have that type of conviction when you make decisions if you're going to really, truly feel about them. When he made that decision, he didn't look back. He came here on a mission. He was determined to do great things. He felt like he could be a top 10 pick, he achieved that. He felt like he could lead his team to a higher level than we had ever been. He did that. He felt like he could leave his legacy here, he did that. He felt like he wanted to graduate. He did that. Just a special human being.
And I think we've got another guy like that, Tajh Boyd, that's just like him. That's also one of the reasons he came back. He had bigger things in his mind. And I'm excited to see him play this weekend.
Q. Florida State lost multiple guys to the draft last year, a couple first round, second round, so on, and they're still at the level they are now. Do you think after this you may lose many guys to the draft?
COACH SWINNEY: We've lost guys to the draft every year, even guys that are free agents. Most of our guys are sticking. I think we had seven make it this year out of 11 guys. That's a pretty big percentage of guys leaving your team and sticking at the next level. We lose guys every year, there's no doubt.
Listen, we have slowly and methodically built this program over the last four years. Five years ago, right now, I was getting ready to coach my first game against Georgia Tech. You know, trying to create that attitude of belief, trying to start building a foundation, so many things that needed to be done and trying to just start a process and a journey.
Five years later, we're not a good we were a good team in '09, we weren't a good program. We're a good program now. We're not just a good team. We're a good program. This program is going to is set up to have a lot of success, for many years. A couple years ago we won the league, and that was a great accomplishment, but my message was we've got to have consistent success. We've got to go and put three, four, five really good seasons together. That's why last year was so big. We became a consistent performer.
And then carry it over to this year, trying to cut that margin down a little bit more, take another step. But the biggest thing is we're set up to sustain success here because of the culture that we have, because of the things that we have in place that I believe with all my heart that you've got to have to be successful. It's bigger than any player. When Tajh Boyd leaves we're going to have another great player. When we have a coach leave we're going to have another great coach. It's about the program.
I really like where we are from a program standpoint, and I think we're set up to have success consistently, and that's you've got to continue to recruit well because when you don't recruit well, you have a problem. Nuke Hopkins left; Mike Weaver is going to be pretty good. He's better as a freshman than Nuke was as a freshman. It's not even really close. Now, will he develop the same? We'll see.
But I get excited. That's just college football. But I really like our program, I like where we are, I like the things we've got in place, but we've got to continue to get better. You can't ever be satisfied. There is no finish line. You've got to constantly check yourself. You've got to constantly check others and do a great job in recruiting the right people in here, the right type of character in here, and having the right type of discipline. If you do that, we've got a chance to be consistently successful.
Q. When you talk about that circumstance of sort of creating sustainable program, somebody like Shuey who didn't have instant success, really came around, he told me that there were times when he really doubted whether he'd ever really be able to contribute here. What's the value of having somebody sticking around to be a fifth year guy and sort of see the patience in that?
COACH SWINNEY: I mean, we have lots of guys like that. Our 10 seniors that we have, we have one true senior. The other nine are red shirt seniors, five year guys. I mean, Catanzaro, Shuey, Fajgenbaum, Quandon Christian, Shatley, Brandon Thomas. Brandon Thomas was a guy that really wasn't a factor here his first couple years. You know, Kalon Davis. This year he's a fourth year junior. He hasn't really been a huge factor, he's just been a developing guy. Vic Beasley, he wasn't really a factor his first year or so.
That's just college football. You get them at 17, 18 years old, and some are more ready than others, some are mentally more mature than others, but the bottom line is with our program, if you will stick with it and just keep pushing and handle the adversity, sooner or later if we're recruiting the right kind of guys in here, they're going to break through. Shuey is a perfect example of that, patience, perseverance, not giving up, belief in yourself, and then the most importantly, being ready when your opportunity presents itself. A lot of times guys get opportunities and they're not ready because they've got the wrong attitude. Shuey has always chosen the right attitude, and when he got his chance he was ready and productive and hasn't looked back.
Q. How is Spencer's toe?
COACH SWINNEY: He's good. He's good. He'll practice today. He's getting a little bit better each week.
Q. How would you evaluate the consistency of the offensive line and how important is it going to be for them to establish that run game to give you that consistency Saturday night?
COACH SWINNEY: Been very, very good at times, very inconsistent at times. It's really been we've done a lot of good things this year, but we've got to get right tackle solidified. I think that we've got to have a little better rotation there, first of all. Shaq Anthony did a lot of good things last week. He did a lot of good things. But he hasn't played a lot, and all of a sudden he's playing 80 something plays, and I'm not sure that that's really fair to him. And then Giff has played a ton of football and all of a sudden he's not getting any snaps. We've got to balance that out because Giff has won a lot of games for us and he's kind of getting back now where he feels good, and I think between the two of them, hopefully we can have a little more consistent play there.
Same thing with Beasley; Beasley has been a little injured. We've got to get him rolling. Kalon has been
good but we need David Beasley. He's one of our most physical guys that we have. Again, we've done a lot of good things. We're 6 0, so it ain't all bad. Inconsistent at times, very, very good at times, probably just like any other group out there in the country.
Q. What is the level of passion and excitement from the students and the fan base mean to you and your program?
COACH SWINNEY: Love it. It's just the best place in the world. These people here are tremendous. Sold out against South Carolina State. I mean, I look on TV a lot of times, and I watch a lot of obviously watch the coach's film a lot of times and I'm seeing the video and you're seeing the stands at a lot of these places, good schools, good games, and there ain't hardly anybody there. I mean, I don't take that for granted, because you work so hard, you put so much into getting ready, whether you're a coach or a player, and you show up on game day when it means something and you get off that bus and you've got people lined up and they're excited about being there and they're excited about watching your team play and the passion that comes with that, that's what makes college football special to me, and nobody does it better than Clemson. I mean, nobody. This place is second to none.
I mean from the tailgating, from the pageantry of the campus, the Rock, the Hill, the emotion. It's awesome. It's just a special thing to be a part of, and I tell our guys all the time, don't take it for granted. Don't take it for granted, because you never know when it's your last time to do it. Just enjoy the moments, cherish those things, because that's what you're going to ultimately remember. You're going to remember all those things.
I hear it all the time from our NFL guys. It's just not the same for them. They've got a good job, a well paid job, but it's a job. You don't have the same type of passion that you have from a collegiate standpoint. It's just a lot of fun to be a part of it, and we're very thankful that we're at a place like Clemson that supports us like they do.
Q. What you alluded to earlier, this is your fifth anniversary week. With that, do you reflect on that, and with another layer of emotion that you've built into this, is there anything about it that's
COACH SWINNEY: No, I mean, I reflected on it Sunday because I got a bunch of text messages, and I was like, wow, man, five years ago today. It was a crazy day. It was a crazy day, it was a crazy week. Just notebooks of notepads of notes, just writing things down, thinking, and just trying to do the best you can with the situation that you're in.
It was certainly unthinkable. That's been my word this year, unthinkable. It's only unthinkable if you don't think it, because it all starts with how you think, what you believe. That's what the Bible says: "As a man thinketh, so is he." So why think little thoughts? Think big thoughts. And when I got the opportunity October 13th of '08, it was like, man, I've got a chance; why not? And then when I got the job the first part of December, my mentality was, listen, I want Clemson to become the model program in college football.
It was unthinkable to a lot of people I'm sure at the time. We had a lot of growing to do, a lot of things that we had to get better at, a lot of things that had to take place. But it's never been unthinkable to me, ever since the day I got this job, I felt like this could be one of the best programs in the country. I wish I could snap my fingers, but one thing I knew we were never going to do was take shortcuts, and we've not taken any shortcuts. We've done things the right way, and it hasn't always been easy. We've handled adversity, we've handled some success, but to see where we are now after five years, I'm very proud of our players, number one, because they've bought in. I'm proud of the players who aren't here anymore who were here that helped us get to this point, who helped us slowly build a foundation so when new people come in here, this is the way it is. This is all they know, and I'm proud of all the coaches that have been here, all of our coaches that have done such a tremendous job over the years since we started this thing and helping doing their part.
Q. You said earlier in this press conference that every game you play is the biggest of the year, but since you've been the head coach here, the winner of this game has won the Atlantic Division title, so I'm curious is this week different than other weeks?
COACH SWINNEY: I mean, from a preparation standpoint it won't be any different. I mean, it's just what we do. Today is Tuesday, and we'll have our Tuesday practice. These are human beings, so obviously they have a keen sense to what's going on. They know we're playing Florida State. They know that it's game day. They know that there's a lot of energy going on.
But I think that they're mature enough to also understand that that's not what's going to win this game. That's great for everybody else, but we have to prepare, the same way we do every week. When they get off the bus, do they have a little different spring in their step? I mean, probably. Just simply I mean, every game is big, but some games are just special, and this is a special moment, special opportunity.
But at the end of the day, it's still just one game. That's it. They're not going to cancel the rest of the season. Next week it's going to be very important that we try to go beat Maryland. Whether we win this one or lose this one, that's just the way you have to think. It's about a season. It's not about a game, it's about the whole season. And at the end of the season, you look back and you say, okay, hey, we had a great year or we had an okay year or we had a bad year; how do we get better. Here's the things we've got to do. That's what you do every single year.
And there's a lot that goes into that: Injuries, a little break here, a little break there. Again, it's not a round ball.
Q. Does the fall break come at a good time that this is their entire focus this week?
COACH SWINNEY: I think fall break has come at a good time for us, especially with them having a week off. It's allowed our guys coming off a tough hard fought game to check out a little bit mentally from an academic standpoint. Listen, we only get 17 hours to get our team ready. It's not like we can just have these guys. We get 17 hours. So you've got to have a great, efficient plan in place and be very organized to prepare a team. You get 20, but three of them are the game, so you get 17 hours Monday through Friday to get your team ready. That's the same for everybody. So how you manage that time, how everybody maximizes that time and uses that time, that's the difference.
But for us, not having to go to school yesterday and today I think is a positive because they got a little extra rest, and then a couple extra meetings that we wouldn't normally get on a Monday and a Tuesday, from a football standpoint.
Q. 25 years ago you might have been a high school senior, college freshman. What do you remember about the Punt Brewski (phonetic)?
COACH SWINNEY: I just remember it being on TV, going, wow, what a great play. That's about all I remember of it. And then when Woody McCorvey and all them guys, they all came to Alabama from Clemson. It was one of those things that you used to talk about Clemson all the time, but it was a great play and a great game. That's what it was. That's what it came difference maker.
Q. You've already actually alluded to how your fans are going to be a huge advantage for you with the night atmosphere. You also said Winston probably has thick skin from playing baseball. Were you ever a heckler in your youth as a fan?
COACH SWINNEY: No, I never was a heckler. I didn't get to go to many games. Most of the time I was just always playing something. I went to a few I went to probably maybe about four Alabama games growing up, maybe five, four or five in my life, and I mean, I yelled hard for my team, but I wasn't out there talking about somebody's mama or something like that. (Laughter.) Hey, Roll Tide and root for my guy, all that kind of stuff, but I didn't get into tearing other people down. That's never been my deal. I'd just cheer for my team, whoever I was pulling for.
But I went to a few Auburn games. I had a friend whose dad was an Auburn guy. Probably went to four or five Auburn games growing up as a kid. But no, I've never been a heckler. I've yelled at a few refs along the way, but I'm usually nice to those guys, too.
Q. Have you made the call on Hopper's availability?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, Hopper and Geohaghan, as long as they complete their discipline this week, they'll had an opportunity to rejoin us, and they started that yesterday and again this morning. But I'm pleased with how they've responded.
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