Tony Elliott recaps Saturday in Tallahassee, looks ahead to tough Pitt run defense

by - Senior Writer -
Elliott knows the Pitt defense will be tough against the run. (Photo courtesy ACC)
Elliott knows the Pitt defense will be tough against the run. (Photo courtesy ACC)

Clemson’s offensive players didn’t spend much time pondering the postponement of last Saturday’s game at Florida State, and by the time the team boarded the plane in Tallahassee to come home, the players were already looking ahead to this weekend’s game against Pitt.

The Tigers take on Pitt in Death Valley at 3:30 pm Saturday (ESPN).

Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott spoke with media Monday morning, and he recapped a wild Saturday morning in Florida.

"I was where the players were, we were all sitting ready to eat the pregame meal. Coach (Dabo Swinney) came in and made the announcement and my heart just dropped,” Elliott said. “I was waiting for him to say, 'No I'm just kidding.' But as he continued to talk, you could see he was very serious. I kind of scanned the room to get the reaction of the players. Just extremely disappointed, not so much because of the work I put in -- that's my job -- but for the players. They find out at 8:30 in the morning that they aren't going to have an opportunity to do what they love."

Elliott said the mood of the players quickly changed.

"I think early on everyone was disappointed, kind of shocked. Your mind is racing, they were trying to reach their families. Kind of in disbelief,” Elliott said. “We had an opportunity to decompress in the rooms before we got on the plane. When we got on the plane, you really couldn't tell that the guys were that upset or they just didn't show it. They just said, 'We can control what we can control.' Now it's about moving onto Pittsburgh.”

Swinney used a media conference call Sunday night to air his thoughts on the postponement, and Elliott said it’s good to know what Swinney is looking out for his program.

"I didn't have a chance to hear word for word what he said, but coach Swinney knows what he's doing. He's the leader of our program and he's always going to defend our program,” Elliott said. “We all know every day we come to work, we put our trust in the medical staff to have the protocols in place. From the beginning of August to know, just complete confidence in those guys doing it the right way.

"Definitely understand coach Swinney defending our program, the medical players, the staff, because it's tough when you work and put a lot into doing something you love to do and you do everything you can to follow the rules to a T... you can see guys are here and not opting out and they believe in what we're doing. So a little bit frustrated. He speaks from the heart and he's going to call it as he sees it."

Clemson faces a tough test in Pitt this weekend. The Panthers are ranked No. 13 nationally in total defense, and are fifth against the run, giving up just 87.33 yards per game on the ground.

"Even if you spread them out and have a five-man blocking service, they're going to find a way to get seven (in the box),” Elliott said. “If you have six men, they're going to find a way to get eight. They are going to force you to win the one-on-one matchups and make the contested plays and make you throw and catch vs. man coverage. They are going to force you to throw the low-percentage throws.

"So definitely have to make sure we do a good job of making them be honest. Have to stay balanced best we can, force the run when you need to, but also understanding that the structure is built to stop the run, so you're going to have to do things to supplement your run game, and more importantly, you're going to have to throw and catch."

Elliott said Clemson’s running backs will have to be on point in pass protection.

"They are going to rush four in their base defense, and their ends are as good as anybody in the country. They are up there in sacks,” Elliott said. “They play hard and are very well-coached. And then when they are not playing their base defense, they want to get pressure and are going to rush six. So the backs in pass protection are going to be critical, and so is the quarterback being able to identify and make sure that structurally we have things called in the right direction so we can anticipate and pick it up. Even the tight ends are going to have to go in on some of those play-action protections we carry.

"Because they don't do a ton on defense, they are really good at what they do, which allows them to get pressure with four, and when they do decide to bring the blitz they are very effective at getting home with the blitz because their players know exactly what they are trying to get accomplished."

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