No smack talk: Saban and Swinney complimentary of each other

by - Senior Writer -
No smack talk: Saban and Swinney complimentary of each other

Don’t expect any bulletin board material from Dabo Swinney or Nick Saban heading into next week’s College Football Playoff National Championship.

Both head coaches participated in a conference call with the media Monday and couldn’t say enough good things about the other program. Clemson and Alabama will play for the title next Monday evening at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“Obviously we're just really excited to be a part of the National Championship game and really proud of our team for just the work that they've put in this season and our staff, to earn the right to be in this game,” Swinney said. “We're coming off a great performance in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma. We're excited about getting back to work, and we know that we've got an incredible challenge with Alabama. We've got great respect for the University of Alabama and Coach Saban and their staff and what they represent. They certainly have been the standard in college football for a long, long time, but especially since Coach Saban has been there.

“It's a great honor to be able to go and compete at the highest level with the team that represents the best. We know that we're going to have to have great preparation here and play very well to have a chance to win the game. But again, just proud of our team and our staff for the type of season that we've had. We look forward to a great game out in Arizona and traveling out there and competing one last time and hopefully playing our best four quarters. Congratulations to Alabama and Coach Saban again for the great year that they've had and winning their league and winning the College Football Playoff game that they were in, as well.”

Saban echoed Swinney’s comments.

“I'm extremely proud of our team and what they've been able to accomplish, the improvement that they've made, the hard work that they've done. Our players, our staff, everybody in our organization has done an outstanding job,” Saban said. “Also like to congratulate Clemson on what they've accomplished in winning their conference and being in the National Championship game. This is certainly going to be the most challenging game we've had to this point. Clearly Clemson is a team that is good in all facets of the game. Very, very good offensive team, great defensive team, play well on special teams, very well-coached. Dabo has done an outstanding job, and they have a lot of good players that are very well-coached that play very well.

“I think as it should be, this is a game that two great teams are going to have a great opportunity to compete in, and it's something that we're certainly looking forward to and pleased that we've created the opportunity for ourselves to do that. Looking forward to being a part of this National Championship game.”

The last time Clemson and Alabama met was in 2008, and underdog Alabama claimed a 34-10 victory, a win that many consider a springboard of the Tide’s recent run of championships. Saban says that game has no bearing, however, on this season.

“Well, you know, as you said, it's a long time ago. You know, we were building a program,” Saban said. “It was our second year here. Clemson was a good football team, and you know, it's the first time that I think we beat a team that was ranked or whatever. But let me say this: That's ancient history compared to the kind of team Clemson has now and the kind of team we're going to play against in this game. Even though it was something that helped us establish a foundation for the program here a long time ago, I don't think it has much significance in what's going to happen in this game.”

The good news for Clemson is that defensive end Shaq Lawson – injured early in the Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma – should be able to play.

“We'll get him back out there today. He looked pretty good, so, so far so good,” Swinney said. “We'll see him out there today, but I think the prognosis is good at this point. But got to get out there and run around a little bit today, and we'll kind of go from there. I'm very optimistic that he'll be able to play.”

Swinney said he was proud of how Clemson’s young defenders played in the absence of Lawson.

“Well, that's what it's all about. It really is. That's been the key for us this year,” Swinney said. “We knew coming in losing -- we lost six defensive -- 10 guys off of last year's defense went on to the NFL and six of them were D-linemen, so we knew coming into this season, a real key for us, we thought our front-line guys, Shaq and Dodd and Reader and Carlos and those guys would be more than as good as what we had last year, but we just weren't going to have the same type of depth. Last year we were taking Vic Beasley out and bringing in Shaq Lawson. We're going to be very young.

“You're going to have guys like (Richard) Yeargin and Austin Bryant and those type of guys, (Scott) Pagano and Christian Wilkins, a lot of young players, so we were hopeful that we could get through at least the first half of the season and stay healthy so that we could develop those guys a little bit, and I think that's what you saw in the bowl game, is even though Austin has played, not as much as Shaq, but the cumulative effect of his experience and the practice and just being able to bring him at a healthy pace has been very beneficial for us, and it paid off in the game the other night because he was ready to play, and he was confident, and we've seen that grow and mature all year long. He's going to be a great player.”

Bryant played well after Lawson left the game.

“Really proud of him. It was huge,” he said. “The 4th and 1, the initial hit, was Austin Bryant, and it was Austin Bryant, Dorian O'Daniel and Kendall Joseph, another freshman who hasn't played a lot, but those three guys were two freshmen and a sophomore making a big stop on 4th and 1, which was a key play in the game. But that's what you hope to get throughout the season is the development of some of those young guys. Really proud of how they competed. And Kevin Dodd took his game, I thought he stepped up and led us and Reader and all those guys inside played a great game for us.”

Saban said that Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson will present a special challenge.

“First of all, the guy is an outstanding player and does a great job of executing their offense, tremendous dual threat in terms of being a very good passer and rushing for over 1,000 yards this year, you know, really is a very good rhythm passer as well as a guy who can sustain plays and extend plays because of his athleticism and ability to scramble,” Saban said. “Really is probably as fine a dual-threat quarterback as we've played against for a long, long time, and certainly does an outstanding job of executing their offense, and there's no question about the fact that he's an outstanding leader, as well, because you can see the way the players sort of rally around him.”

Protecting Watson will be freshman left tackle, a player that Swinney says doesn’t get enough notice.

“He's been tremendous. He really has. He's a guy we don't really notice a whole lot to be honest with you, and typically with a true freshman you're holding your breath all the time,” Swinney said. “But he's really done a heck of a job for us. I haven't been around another true freshman left tackle that has started every game, but that's a very difficult position to play, regardless of your experience, and for a true freshman to do it has been remarkable, especially on a 14-0 team, and really, really proud of him. He's still a young player. He's not even close to what he's going to be, but he's got the commitment and the drive and the work ethic. The guy cares, and that's what makes it so fun to coach him. He's a very smart player, and he's going to give you everything he's got each and every practice, each and every game, and that's all you can ask for, and what the talent that he has, he's just going to continue to blossom.”

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