Dabo Swinney Orange Bowl postgame press conference

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THE MODERATOR: Coach, what do you say to your team in the locker room after a game like that?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, obviously we're a better football team than how we played tonight, and you know, it is what it is. The season is over, and the biggest thing I said in there is that I love them, and we've got to live with this the whole off?season. They'll play again in September, those guys that are coming back, and certainly not the finish that we wanted. Just too many mistakes.

But I talked to our seniors in particular. Just thanked them for a good year and getting us where we've wanted to be for a long time. We're going to miss those guys. Love every single one of them and thanked them for all they've done.

We got a taste of it tonight, and we'll be back. We'll be back. It won't be 30 years. We'll be back, and hopefully these guys will play better next time. Simple as that. But this was a game that ?? too many mistakes. We got off to a fast start, but we could not sustain the momentum on defense, and then all of a sudden we're getting ready to go up 24?21, looks like it's going to be a shootout and we're getting ready to go up 24?21 and it's a 14?point swing, a 99?yard touchdown, which all of a sudden that just opened the door for ?? it's just like a virus with turnovers. Four turnovers, three of them that they got touchdowns off of. And you just can't give a good offense those type of opportunities, easy scores, field position. It just snowballed from there. It's probably as bad a defensive performance I've seen in a long, long time. It's incredibly disappointing.

But again, our players have gotten a taste of where we want this program to consistently be, and I think it'll be great lessons for us as we move forward in trying to continue to build our program into the type of program that we want it to be.

Q. You alluded to it on the 14?point swing on the Ellington carry and all that. Did you sense at that point that the air was just coming out of the sideline, such a dramatic swing? You had kids celebrating what they thought was a touchdown, and for it to change that quickly, did you sense it was going to be a particularly huge moment?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, it was a pretty huge moment. They hadn't really stopped us. We were scoring, but they were matching us, and we couldn't get a stop. We'd get momentum and lose momentum, get momentum, lose momentum. That was going to be a huge swing for us. Like I said, it was going to put us up 24?21, we're right back in this thing and still searching for a stop. But that was huge. I mean, that was a big, big play because now all of a sudden it was 28?17, and again, all of a sudden we continued to have another turnover here and there, and it just snowballed quickly.

And you've got to give them a ton of credit. I'm telling you, we still haven't tackled No. 1. He's as good a skilled player with the ball in his hands as I've seen all year. I mean, he's special. He is a special, special football player. He's second in the country in all?purpose, I believe. You saw why tonight. Very, very talented player. Their quarterback was outstanding. What was he, 31 of 45? Do the math on that. And 10 of 16 on 3rd down. They had the ball 36 minutes, we had it 23. It's just hard to win.

Again, just very, very disappointing how it got away from us. But that's how quick things can snowball on you, especially when you start turning it over against a team that can score.

You know, it is what it is from that standpoint. This is obviously a very, very disappointing finish for us. But at the end of the day, the season is over, and you've got to look at the big picture. We didn't play well in this game, but we had a good season. And again, accomplished a tremendous amount, and so much for us to build upon, and we can't let one game get our eyes off of that. We've got a good football team coming back, and we've got to focus on closing this thing out with our banquet, and sending these seniors off the right way and then refocusing on finishing off a really good recruiting class and getting back to work. And our goal will be to get back here. That will be our goal. That will be our objective.

You know, there's a lot of things out there. Tonight is a bitter taste. Really disappointing for our fans, especially those that traveled down here. Just so disappointing for us to play like we played.

But we'll be back.

Q. Did West Virginia do anything different from what you guys had prepared for for three weeks as far as what they do on the offensive side? I know Coach Holgorsen says they kind of do what they do, or was it just the mistakes on the defensive side?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, it was turnovers first of all, which really sucked the life out of us, and then some big mistakes on defense. They didn't do a whole lot different. I mean, it just ?? they just whipped us.

Q. You talked about the defense had its share of struggles a lot of the season. How confident are you that it's going to get fixed? And how do you think that it'll be fixed sort of moving forward?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I'm as confident as I was last year standing here in a press conference 6?7 and telling you we'd fix it. I'm as confident as that. We'll be better. We'll be better. No doubt in my mind that ?? I mean, y'all have seen us play better. But we just did not put it together with three phases tonight, and it just was a perfect storm because we were having a hard time stopping them.

You've got to give them credit. We were having a very difficult time stopping them, but they were having a hard time stopping us, too. Really felt like we could run the football on them, and I think had we been able to keep the game going like we were, we really would have been able to rush the football very well tonight, but it just turned in a hurry. And the turnovers offensively just killed us, and then that just added to what was going on on the defensive side.

You know, we might have had a chance ?? if we could take care of the ball, maybe it would have been 56?55, 42?43 type ballgames. It would have been an interesting game to see. But we didn't really give ourselves a chance to get there with the turnovers. It's one thing to not stop them, but you can't add to the calls with making those critical mistakes.

Q. You talked about the mistakes, the turnovers and everything. Do you think this was lack of focus being down here this week? Was it West Virginia forcing you to make these mistakes?

DABO SWINNEY: No, I don't think it was lack of focus. We've prepared very well. Guys practiced well. It's just guys making mistakes. Is it a lack of focus that a guy fumbles the ball going in for a touchdown? Does that mean the other ten guys aren't focused? We just didn't make some plays that we were very capable of making. Guys are in position to make plays, and we didn't make some of those plays. It's just that simple.

You've got to give them credit. We were very focused. Guys were excited about playing and like I said, got off to a good start. But I felt like it was probably going to be a shootout. I was hoping that we could slow them down a little bit early, but I had no illusions that they were going to score some points, but I really felt they'd have a hard time stopping us. And I really think that would have been the case, but we just, again, self?imploded with some costly turnovers and gave them good field position three times off of those three turnovers. Hard to win that way. Hard to give yourself a chance.

Q. Everyone looks at the ACC record in the BCS games. Just wondering how much you think the league should be judged based on some of the performances in these bigger games.

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, we've got to play better. We've had opportunities. I thought Virginia Tech ?? they played much better than we did. They didn't play well enough to win. But some of the other teams I think have been competitive. But it all comes down to winning. We have not had a good year this year, and we certainly didn't do our part. I don't really worry about other people, to be honest with you. I'm just focused on Clemson. You know, that's really the only thing that matters to me. I'm really not concerned with anybody else.

But very disappointing from that standpoint in how we played and represented our conference.

Q. Seven touchdowns for Geno Smith. Have you ever seen a quarterbacking performance like that against a team of yours?

DABO SWINNEY: No, no. I mean, he was awesome, played great, and like I said, the skilled player, he caught everything thrown to him. 1 and 3 were spectacular. He had 65 percent completion percentage all year. He's done it all year long. He made some big scrambles on 3rd down, at least three or four times where he really hurt us in that regard. He's a very good football player. He's as good as we've seen all year, and we knew that coming in, and we didn't do a good job of disrupting what they were doing in the passing game. And then 1, he was better than us out there tonight.

Q. Focusing in on the defense, where do you think this unit needs to improve going into the off?season? And any changes in particular in mind right now thinking about that you would like to make perhaps?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, we've got to look at everything that we've done this year, good and bad, and evaluate. That's just what you do. I mean, we are the ACC champions. We did win ten games. I think we were second in the country with wins versus ranked opponents. So it's not like we have not done anything. But we have not played to our standard defensively at all, and nobody is going to tell you otherwise. Our defensive coaches are as disappointed as I am. But again, we knew that we were going to have some struggles this year, but I just really felt like that we've got to get some guys to play with a little more discipline, a little more consistency. Just too many missed assignments.

We've got to look at what we're doing and make sure that guys know what they're doing, because again, missed assignments lead to big plays. We'll look at everything and how we're doing it and come back next year. We were the ninth scoring defense in the country last year and top 25 the year before. Ain't nobody forgot how to coach or anything like that. We've just got to grow some guys up, and they will get better from this experience. There's no doubt about that. We've got some guys that are going to be coming that I think will be able to help us, as well, and just learn from this year. We've got a lot of film to study and evaluate and learn from. That's what you do in the off?season, you try to come back and have a better year next year.






THE MODERATOR: Could you have ever imagined that was how the game was going to go?

DANA HOLGORSEN: Yeah, that's exactly how we draw it up, right? No, Clemson is a heck of a football team. You know, I was just telling them on the way in, regardless of what the score ended up, there was nothing easy about that. There was a snowball effect at one point in the game, and the only way that can happen is if you've got three sides of the ball playing together, and they're feeding off of each other, which we've been preaching that for quite some time. But we just kind of got at a point where it just started snowballing and all three sides were playing pretty good.

Q. Can you talk about how much things kind of spun around on that one play, that 99?yard fumble return for a touchdown.

DANA HOLGORSEN: Well, yeah, and you know, as a coach, it's good to see something like that happen because we've been telling them for a long, long time, you know, just to keep playing. I told the guys, look, man, life is a lot like this, too. I mean, there's going to be good things happen and there's going to be bad things happen, but you've just got to keep playing.

And in the first quarter defense gave up two touchdowns in the first three drives, so did Clemson. And then Clemson was driving down to put another touchdown on the board, but we kept playing and we looked for an opportunity to make a play, and making one when our backs are against the wall on the 1?yard line is something that's pretty cool to see. Obviously the tide turned from there.

But then offense went back out there and kept playing, and special teams made a play, and then defense kept playing, as well.

Q. Geno's first few throws were a little high and off a little. Did you have to settle him down after the first series?

DANA HOLGORSEN: No, I didn't say anything to him. He was 31 for 42, 401, six touchdowns, didn't get sacked, I thought he was playing pretty good. I don't know what you were looking at.

Q. You'll see it on the film.

DANA HOLGORSEN: Well, yeah. What I just said about ?? we scored two touchdowns in the first three drives. You don't come out jittery and not starting well and do that. So I thought he played well from the very beginning, not having any negative plays, not taking any sacks, not turning the ball over. If you throw a couple of incompletions, I think we can live with it if you don't do any of those things.

Q. Was Tavon or Geno's performance more impressive to you?

DANA HOLGORSEN: Now that I would have to look at the film to kind of study for sure, but I do know who the fastest kid on the field was, and that was very obvious. We made a conscious effort to get him the ball a bunch, and whenever we got him the ball, he made things happen. He's a kid that the more he gets the ball, the more confidence he has, and when he started making a few plays, he looks at me and says, "Coach, you're going to get me the ball again, right?" I said, "Get in there and let's do it." When he says that and he's got that mindset, then he's pretty hard to stop.

Q. The Big East has gotten a bad rap of late in these BCS games, and yet you guys are about to leave the conference. From your perspective, does this say anything about the Big East, or is this more about you guys and moving forward and wherever you may be next year?

DANA HOLGORSEN: Well, I've got two comments on that. One, and I've only been there a year, I know, but West Virginia has won three BCS games in the last six years, which is a pretty good track record. You know, and West Virginia has been in the Big East for the last six years last time I checked. So I think that's a pretty good track record.

And then going through the Big East schedule one year, we had some pretty tough games. We lost a couple of those, and then the ones that we won were tough. So the product at West Virginia was out there. There was a lot of teams in the Big East that gave us all we wanted.

Q. The defense really set the tone obviously with the way that the momentum shifted, and that's something the defense has done here in the last four games. What do you think has been just the biggest difference there, three defensive scores in the last four games here and really have set the tone in all those guys?

DANA HOLGORSEN: Well, Jeff has done a great job with our defense all year long, you know, but like I told them pretty much all year, these guys will vouch for that, but I don't think we're good enough on any side of the ball to be in the position that we're in right now. I think we're pretty tough to beat when all three sides of the ball play together, when defense is rooting for offense and offense is rooting for defense and special teams gets out there and plays hard. I think we had to figure out the formula after game 8 and finish the year with four wins. That amplified what we were talking about.

THE MODERATOR: Geno, how much more special is this now that you're doing it in your backyard, with five other guys on this team that went to high school with you, in your backyard and your high school coach was in the crowd?

GENO SMITH: You know, it's special to be here in a place where I basically grew up at, and to do it in front of my family and friends and to be with my teammates. But I'm not a selfish guy. It's not about me. It's about getting a victory for these seniors, and making sure we put our program where we need to be and making sure we represented our state and our university.

Q. Geno and Tavon, when Darwin made the fumble recovery, were you watching the play? That obviously was a big play in the game.

GENO SMITH: You know, we were down there near the end zone, we were just getting ready to go back out there and try and score. We figured they might have scored or they might not, but whatever happened, we were going to try and go out there and match it.

Darwin made a great play. He's been making plays all year, and it was just good for him to step up in a big game and come up with that touchdown.

Q. You come in, 83 percent of the country has picked Clemson to beat you guys. I know it's not something that's huge but obviously something that kind of stuck with you. How much more did that make you want to win this game?

TAVON AUSTIN: Definitely it was huge for me. Me and Devon Brown was in the hotel, and it's the first time I seen it. I kind of got mad and turned the TV off and went to sleep. Came down with a great attitude. Coach Holgorsen got us together in our meeting and told us just to believe in ourself and believe in the people in this room, and that's what we did, we bought into what he said and we got the job done.

Q. Can you just talk about putting up the 70 points and the kind of flow that you guys were in tonight on offense.

GENO SMITH: Well, we got into a rhythm early. We were moving the chains. The offensive line did a great job picking up blitzes and moving guys off the ball. The run game helped out a lot. Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie stepped up big tonight, and we just continued to believe and continued to trust our coaching and execute the game plan.

Q. Geno and then Coach, best game you ever had?

GENO SMITH: So far. I'm not satisfied. We're not satisfied. You know, we can always improve. I felt like I still left some yards out there, still left some plays out there, some things I want to have back. But overall it was a good game. I'm not going to sit here and say we didn't play well because obviously we did.

Q. Coach, best game you've ever had for a quarterback on your team?

DANA HOLGORSEN: Well, we've had some pretty good performances over the years. We're going to enjoy this one. We did everything that we were supposed to do for the last ?? going back to it may be closer to two months now, and really proud of the way that these guys responded when our backs were against the wall. We did what we were supposed to do to get here. We prepared hard. We respected our opponent, but we weren't scared of anybody. We went out there and we did what we had to do to win the game, and we're going to enjoy it.

Q. Geno, I know it's all about the team for you, but at any point were you thinking about breaking Tom Brady's record or Matt Leinart's record?

GENO SMITH: Honestly, not at all. I had no idea that those records even existed. I had no idea those guys had those records. But it's just great to be mentioned in the same breath as those guys because obviously they've done some great things, and they're in a place where I want to be some day.

Q. Geno, this one is for you but about Tavon: Coach earlier said he knew who the fastest guys on the field was. What's it like for you when you dump it off to him or you give him a handoff to watch him out go at it?

GENO SMITH: Oh, man, he won me an MVP. I should give him a trophy. He takes it the distance every time. He's one of the quickest guys I've ever seen, with and without a football, and it's just a blessing to have a guy like him on my team.

Q. Najee, the defense has really stepped up here in the last month of the season, and you guys really changed the momentum of this game with Darwin's fumble recovery. What is it about you guys you think that's allowed you to come together and have such impressive performances?

NAJEE GOODE: Throughout the year we've been able to play good defense, like a bend?don't?break method, and we get down in the red zone, we're able to capitalize on certain things like fumbles, turnovers. We actually didn't know what happened, and we saw Cook taking off full speed, so I just hauled right behind him and just followed him.

For our offense it's huge because they feed off our momentum, and we feed off each other's momentum and the crowd got into it, and that just made the game that much better.

Q. Tavon, what was it about tonight and this game that had you feeling it, so to speak, and having such a good performance?

TAVON AUSTIN: When they assigned me the best player on the field, and they said 84 percent voted we was going to lose, and I got into that offensive ?? Coach did, players did on the team. We had a serious meeting before we got here. It was no laughing, no joking around, and we came in and got the job done.

Q. Geno, do you see this as a springboard for next season?

GENO SMITH: Oh, definitely, but you know, we can't take it lightly. We've got to go back and get back to work and try and work twice as hard as we did last season, if we want to be back here next year. We believe that we're contenders, but we've definitely got to come out and prove it.

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