Interview Insider: Mark Richt says Clemson
Clemson claimed its third consecutive ACC Championship Saturday night

Interview Insider: Mark Richt says Clemson "thoroughly whipped us"

by - Staff Writer -

CHARLOTTE, NC – No. 1 Clemson defeated No. 7 Miami 38-3 Saturday night in Bank of America Stadium to claim its third consecutive ACC Championship.

Both head coaches and players from both teams had plenty to say about Clemson’s dominant effort. Below is a transcript from the media session.


MARK RICHT OPENING STATEMENT: Well, congratulations to Clemson. They thoroughly whipped us. Their coaches did a great job. Players did a great job. Our guys fought, but, you know, obviously it didn't go well at all. Early in the game they scored every time they touched it. We couldn't get it going offensively really the entire game obviously.

But, you know, it just shows they're the class of our league. Right now they're the measuring stick. We're going to get there. We're just not there yet. We weren't there tonight, for sure.

But proud of our players. Proud of what they've accomplished. We've been through a lot together as a team. Early on in the season, going through the hurricane like we did, all the things we had to go through. Then 11 straight. Ending that 11 straight tonight.

It's been a little bit of a grind. But the guys have been battling every week. They've been doing everything we've asked them to do. I couldn't be more proud of a group of guys than our players.

So with that, I'll open it up and let you guys ask whatever you want to ask.

Coach, obviously there weren't many scoring opportunities, but early on you had the play where Jeff Thomas got behind the defense. What did you see on that play?

MARK RICHT: Well, we had a little double move, similar to the one we scored a touchdown in the last game against Pitt. It's a different formation, but pretty much the same play. Different guy running it.

He broke free. We sprint out to the right, then we're going to hit the brakes. The quarterback is going to take about seven to nine steps, then hit the brakes of the, launch it. He felt like he was getting somebody in his face as he was trying to cut the ball loose and lay it out there. Just couldn't quite throw it as far as we would have liked him to.

But from what we heard upstairs, there was a little leakage in the protection. It wasn't as clean as it could have been or should have been. We weren't able to get connected.

Mark, what do you have to do from this point forward to get better for the bowl game coming up?

MARK RICHT: Well, the biggest thing to start out with is to just get rested. The guys are going to get a chance to get a little bit of a break from football. We have to finish strong academically, obviously. Then we'll do some running and lifting and things like that, but not carrying the pads and pounding and things like that. Just going to give them a nice break a well-deserved break physically from the game itself.

That will be the big thing. That will help us get us healthy as we can. We know there's some guys we're just not going to get back, which is a shame. I don't even know if there's anybody out there right now that has been out that we might get back, but we'll get guys healthier and more rested, which will be helpful.

The other thing I just want to mention is, you know, this team did something that's never been done before here at the U. This whole rise is a learning process. Certainly tonight, we'll learn some things, we'll understand a little bit better what it might take to become a champion in this league.

Mark, you've obviously coached pretty recently in another league. You described Clemson as a measuring stick. How would you compare that program and that team we saw tonight with some of the better teams you've seen in the past?

MARK RICHT: Yeah, I mean, Clemson obviously is as good as anybody in America. They've been proving it for the last three years really. Couple years ago played the national championship game, last year won the national championship game. Won three ACC championships in a row. What are they now, 43-46 games they played. They're a big, strong, physical, fast, well-coached. They're as good as anybody in America.

You know, I've been saying it from the very beginning. I don't think we're a team that could just line up and impose our will. I kept saying that we're not there yet. We got some more recruiting to do. We got some more developing to do. We have some guys that can play against anybody in America, but I don't know if we have enough of those guys yet.

We're going to keep working towards getting done. But, you know, in time we'll catch up to the measuring stick.

Mark, injuries on offense tonight, Richards, Herndon. Malik was behind the eight ball a little bit. What did you think of his performance tonight?

MARK RICHT: For the most part, we thought he was making good decisions and trying to go to the right guy. I think, you know, a few balls got batted. Some protection broke down from time to time.

He missed a shot or two. I mean, I think it was a solid performance. We'll have to watch tape to really see exactly how it all went down. But, you know, we didn't think he was just playing poorly, just the entire offensive unit didn't get enough going on.

Coach, what did you learn about your team? You started off 10-0, but what do you have to get better at?

MARK RICHT: I've pretty much been saying it. We have to continue to recruit, continue to get stronger in our off-season program. We've got great players, like I said. We need more great players. We need more guys that can line up. We got to be able to have enough depth to withstand attrition, whether it's guys getting hurt, whatever it may be, guys transferring, things like that that happen in college football.

We're just not to that point yet. We've got a lot of great players. We played well as a team. Obviously we won 10 in a row. We won 15, I guess, in a row, 16, whatever it was, had the longest winning streak there in America for a minute. It's not like we've been playing poorly. The Pitt game obviously we didn't do as good as we should. This one, we were beaten soundly.

Coach, you had incredible performances from true freshmen all year long. Is that going to be your message as you hit the trail after this game? How important will that be in the role of what you tell guys?

MARK RICHT: I think recruits will see they're going to get an opportunity to play. There's still a lot of jobs to be won. There's a guy like Braxton Berrios leaving, a great player, who is going to be missed. Somebody is going to get those reps. We got some seniors leaving.

But, you know, we need more guys to come in and catch the vision of where we're going, be a part of it. I think there's a bunch of guys that want to be a part of it, can see that. I think they're going to be encouraged by how far we've come and know that we got a ways to go, we need their help to get there.

Braxton, how surprised are you at what happened tonight? Why do you think it happened? And the future for this team?

BRAXTON BERRIOS: Well, very surprised. When you come out, you kind of get beat in all phases of the game. We came out with a good plan. We were confident in it. We were confident, we were ready, you know, to compete, really play for that championship.

They came out, and from the beginning they jumped us. Now, going forward, like coach said, we have to get healthy. That's one. More so than this season, you know, it still has to be building on the foundation. This was a first for Miami. It obviously won't be a last. This has to be something that continues to move forward, you know. The last two years, we've had a lot of firsts. I see, in the next two years, us doing the same thing.

Braxton, at the beginning of the season, you told me you were tired of talking about having good seasons. You put a really good season together. Thinking back over all four years, what was the difference this year in allowing all the things you do in the classroom, practice, everything the coaches say about you, to actually having it translate?

BRAXTON BERRIOS: I don't think it was one thing.

MARK RICHT: I could tell you. We threw it to him more (laughter). That's what happened. He got more opportunities, and he took advantage of them.

I didn't mean to cut you off. But he's going to be polite. The reality is, he got more balls thrown at him. He was there to make the plays.

BRAXTON BERRIOS: That's actually exactly what I was going to say. It was. It was opportunities (smiling). That's what happens in football. A lot of times they're few and far between. Sometimes they're abundant. That's just how it goes. You got to be patient, you got to keep working.

At the end of the day, when you get those opportunities, you have to make them count like I did this year. That's really the difference.

Braxton and Coach Richt, if you get into the Orange Bowl, how do you feel about that?

MARK RICHT: I'll be excited. I'll be excited. It's a wonderful opportunity. I mean, before the year started, you said we're going to play for the championship and get a chance to play in the Orange Bowl, I mean, we would not have been too happy about not winning the championship, but dang sure excited about the opportunity to play in the Orange Bowl, one of the classic bowl games in America. If that's where we land, we'll be excited about it.

BRAXTON BERRIOS: I completely agree. The Orange Bowl, at the time when there was a BCS, was one of the big BCS games. Still it's one of the premier games in the country. Obviously we got a shot to do something more, we came up short. But the Orange Bowl, it's a home game. I think that will be really exciting for the team.

CLEMSON HEAD COACH Dabo Swinney, QB Kelly Bryant, DT Christian Wilkins

Dabo Swinney opening statement:

Well, just really proud of our team. I mean, what an amazing performance by our guys. Just really probably our best game of the year. That was our goal, was to play our best four quarters tonight, championship football. When you're a part of championship football, you got to be at your best.

Just tremendous amount of respect for Miami, Coach Richt, their team. What a great year they had. But, you know, tonight our guys were just awesome. The turnover margin, a lot of talk about the turnovers, but to win the turnover margin 3-1, to score 14 points off of turnovers to their none, was probably a big difference in the game.

It's just fun to be a part of it, I mean, it really is. This team, to win the third ACC title in a row, that's the first time in 29 years at Clemson, our seniors get their 50th win, which is an ACC record, it's just a special moment, it really is. The credit goes to these players, our staff, the good Lord for just blessing us with great unity and vision.

Just proud of 'em. Now we're four quarters away from having a chance to play for a national title. We look forward to having a little time off, hitting the recruiting trail, giving these guys a chance to kind of reflect, refocus, get themselves ready. We'll find out who we're going to play tomorrow, all that stuff.

Just cannot tell you how proud I am of the leadership of this team, the will to win they've displayed all year, but especially as we've gotten into this championship phase, their focus and their maturity. These two guys to my left have just been amazing. Christian had an amazing game tonight. Kelly Bryant, I think he hit 15 out of 15 for his first 15 passes, seven out of seven for the first third downs of the game. Just a tremendous performance. They've just gotten better and better all year long.

Really proud of our team. Courage, heart. Look forward to playing another one here in about a month.

Dabo, talk about the opening drive, running the football at the Miami defense. Is that something you saw on film this week, that Miami's run defense is not that good?

DABO SWINNEY: No, that's definitely not what I saw on film. Miami's defense is really good. No. 2 in the nation in tackles for loss, No. 1 in the nation for sacks, No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin. What I saw on film was great defense. What I saw on the field tonight was great execution.

Just our guys with an unbelievable focus and will to win, they took care of business. But the third downs were critical. We kept them off balance, I thought. We got the ball on the edge a little bit. Also got it up between the tackles. I thought we had great rhythm in the passing game. Again, a well-executed plan. So offense came out and score, defensively set the tempo. I thought our special teams were outstanding tonight, too.

Kelly, in the off-season, there were so many questions surrounding whether or not you would be the guy. Now you're in this moment as the title game MVP. Describe what you're feeling right now.

KELLY BRYANT: It's great to see all the work I've been putting in in the off-season just to be in this moment right now. It's special 'cause we had a lot of questions going into the season, a lot of guys that left last year. But, you know, just having the guys around me, the coaches believe in me, just been really great to see.

I'm just trying to do my job, like Coach Dabo said, be the best version of Kelly B that I can be.

Dabo, now that you're finally in the Playoff again, are you the defending champs?

DABO SWINNEY: No, we're the attacking champs. We're attacking for another one. That's been our mindset all year. We're not defending anything. I mean, like I said earlier in the year, if we had the same team back, but we've got a different team. We're attacking to try to go win another one.

But it's sequential, man. You got to take care of business. We're four quarters away. We worked all year to have this opportunity. We've earned it. We look forward to playing on that stage and putting our best foot forward.

Coach, I recall earlier in the season one of your mantras was "leave no doubt." Seems like you've really been doing that these last few games. What has changed, if anything?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, just experience, developing our team as we've gone through the season. We're just a team, we're not a finished product. We don't ever have that mindset. We're always trying to get better every single day, every single week. Every week, for this bunch, every time we line up, it's the biggest game in the world because we're going to get everybody's best effort. We know that. We embrace that. I mean, we love that. I love that.

That puts a lot of pressure on you to make sure you're at your best as a coach, as a player. These guys buy into that. They understand that, man. We meet weekly, we talk about a lot of things. We just get ready each and every week for the biggest game of the year.

Then we learn, we get better. We find a way to win. But we're at a point now where, I mean, Kelly has answered all the questions. Early part of the year, every week it was a question. Well, there's really not any more questions. It's just a matter of going out, playing well. He's had a lot of success. We've had a lot of young guys that have stepped up for us as we've gotten further into the season.

Again, our depth has developed, so we've just become a very functional team. We have great chemistry. These guys are having a lot of fun late in the season. It's a grind for them. But we've still found a way to have great energy at practice and great focus.

So credit goes to these guys. I told them this week, that's probably the best Tuesday, Wednesday practice we've had all year. I mean, it was unbelievable Tuesday, Wednesday practice. That's a choice. I mean, that's a choice that they make. The best teams have that great player leadership. When you have guys like Kelly B and Christian Wilkins out there leading the way at practice with great energy and great focus, everybody else kind of thrives off of that.

We're just kind of hitting our stride. It's a good time to do it 'cause the margin for error gets really, really, really small this time of year.

Kelly, after you had your touchdown run, it looked like you got an invisible turnover chain or something. Did you come up with that celebration ahead of time?

KELLY BRYANT: That was me and Ray-Ray. He came up with it. It was pretty neat.

DABO SWINNEY: Invisible turnover chain?

KELLY BRYANT: It was pretty neat (smiling).

Dabo, a question about the runningbacks. You had a couple guys get in the end zone. Talk about the job that Tony has done with those guys.

DABO SWINNEY: We trust all those guys. Good to see Feaster. Feaster broke some tackles on that one. I thought Adam Choice ran really hard. Travis is so explosive, strong. Always seems like he's just a step away from taking one the distance.

Fuller, we trust them all. They've all come through for us this year. He's done a great job.

That's the other thing I think is a reason why we're starting to play good football, is I think we're a pretty fresh team. We've been able to use our depth and develop a lot of guys. Dexter Lawrence was awesome out there tonight. But we had to give that big boy a couple weeks off. He was beat up after the NC State game. Man, whew, he's a grown man. He just needed a little break. Now he's starting to hit his stride.

While he was out, we had other guys get valuable experience, like Albert Huggins, Jabril, Nyles Pinckney. I think our strength in numbers is helping us.

Christian, can you talk a little about what Kelly has contributed to this season.

CHRISTIAN WILKINS: Before I answer that question, I want to give a special shout out to First Sargent Frank Thomas, who sang America the Beautiful before the fourth quarter.

That's just a time to reflect, definitely appreciate and look and see how proud you are to be an American. That was remarkable. I was singing right there with him. A lot of my teammates were singing right there with him. A good time to reflect and appreciate, for sure.

To answer your question, Kelly has just been great all year. Just the guy he's become. Just stayed his-self, been true to himself the whole time. Have all this hype, now he's proven he can play, hasn't let that go to his head. He's still the same goofy Kelly. Now he's emerging as a leader for us even more. Knew he had to step up and be a leader, contribute on the field. Now he's even more so of a leader. Guys looking up to him. He's one of the first guys to come over and congratulate the defense when we get a three-and-out, make big plays like that. That doesn't go unnoticed. He's great with that. He's really embracing it. He's been great for us all year.

Coach, you mentioned this being your first three-peat in 29 years. Do you think that had something to do with the disparity between your two teams? Also, were you surprised how badly your team was able to beat Miami?

DABO SWINNEY: You know, it was a goal of ours, kind of a goal within a goal. We have our team goals every year. We have five goals. Win an ACC Championship is one of them. We knew this year if we did it, it would be the first time in 29 years, since 1988, to do it three times in a row.

But, you know, we really don't spend a lot of time focusing on who we play. We really don't. I mean, we just don't. These guys will tell you that. We just focus on how we play.

We know that we have the potential to be an explosive team when we're clicking on all cylinders, taking care of the ball, being the least penalized team, making a difference in special teams, having great effort, winning that big-play margin.

I think that's what you saw. Regardless of who we play, if we play the right way, then we think we have a chance to win.

We don't go into the game saying, Oh, we're going to blow these guys out. That's never our mindset. We just want to play well. We just focus on trying to play well, one play at a time. We respect every opponent. We really just try to stay focused on our plan to win and our formula for excellence. That's really all we do.

Dabo, I think you've said this is the proudest you've been of a team. Can you elaborate on why? And is this the most fun you've had?

DABO SWINNEY: Oh, man, I've had a blast. I can't think of a year I haven't had a good time. I mean, it's just such a joy to be able to come to work at Clemson. I've been so blessed in my nine years to have so many great young men. It's so much fun to me.

Just sitting around today, I'm getting text messages from former players. I just love that. I mean, it's just so much fun.

I reflect on all of the time that I've been here. The nine years, these past nine years, have been a blur. It's been really fast. But I can't think of a time where I haven't enjoyed it. I've always enjoyed it.

But this team in particular, this is going to be a forever special team for me. Every team has their own challenges, their own journeys, but this bunch right here, man, you know, because everything coming into the spring was, Oh, man, you won a national championship, how do you stay focused? We had checked the box, so now we're going to quit working at Clemson. What else? We're going to go lay on the beach or something.

People don't realize, we got a bunch of motivated individuals. What we accomplished is something that's really motivating to go do it again.

But it was interesting to watch these guys because all spring and all summer, all I talked about was the guys who weren't on my team any more, that were gone. This group came to work with an edge because the storyline was we were just supposed to be okay.

But here we are 12-1, going back to the Playoff. So, you know, I just appreciate these players. I mean, I really do. I just have a great appreciation for what I've seen on a daily basis because I know the type of work that they put in.

Championships are won when people aren't watching. It's when the stands are empty. That's when you win. And these guys, man, those 5:30 a.m. workouts, the skills and drills in the summer, the film study, the preparation. I mean, Kelly Bryant has worked his tail off for two years, without really anybody paying attention, to have the opportunity to do what he did tonight.

So it's just special. I'm going to always enjoy this team. And then the fact that they have this huge bullseye on them. This has probably been a tougher path than what we had last year, to be honest with you. Our schedule has been incredibly difficult. Every week we go on the road, we play at midnight, seems like. It's Game Day every single week. We get home at 6 a.m., 5 a.m. These guys never say a word. They just go to work. They just do what they do.

Again, I have such a great appreciation for that. 29 years to win it three times in a row, there's a reason why it's been 29 years: it's really, really hard to do.

These guys, we were at the doorstep tonight, but they busted through it. They didn't flinch at all. They embraced the moment, dominated the moment.

Christian and Kelly, seems like you set the tone early in this game. When did you realize you had not only the advantage on the field but mentally? And also, what are the values of this program?

CHRISTIAN WILKINS: Offense did a good job starting off hot. Went right down the field, scored a touchdown. Then defense got a three-and-out. Cut to the fumble, we had to go back out there again. Definitely just big getting off the field again after the missed field goal and everything.

We just really had the mentality that we never were satisfied really. Just had to finish the whole time. Tried to stay locked in. Even when we were rotating guys, putting the younger guys in, just kept encouraging them. Those are all meaningful snaps to them and everything. We stayed locked in all the way throughout, so...

KELLY BRYANT: For me, I just think that everybody was just having fun out there. Offense was clicking. Defense was playing really well. Special teams. Flying around, making plays. It was just great to see everybody was playing, everybody on the same page, everybody in a rhythm.

It just really shows the type of team we have, a bunch of guys that have bought in, go out there to finish the way we want to finish, never satisfied. We still working to finish the way we want to finish.

For the players, eight games this year you've scored on that first drive. Talk about the feeling of getting seven on the board before the defense ever gets on the field. I heard some players last week saying, Gosh, we don't get to play past the third quarter. What is it like getting to sit back and watch the younger guys play?

KELLY BRYANT: Just coming out strong. We have the mindset each and every week, no matter who we play, to just attack. For us on offense, we just continue to play. We have so much depth on that side of the ball, no matter what time it is in the game, what the situation, we can just roll guys in, have no dropoff. The young guys just step up, ready to play, have that mindset.

CHRISTIAN WILKINS: Definitely good to have a hot start always. Whoever goes out there first, you know your mentality is to set the tone for the game, set the tone for the first half, whatever.

Starting off, you know, just eight times, that's pretty big. Definitely gives energy for the defense to feed off. If the defense goes up first, the offense feeds off that, too. Just being complementary and playing off each other.

Kelly, you had five different guys score tonight. What does that say about this offense?

KELLY BRYANT: We have a bunch of guys that can make a play for us. And also just starting up front, we have guys that do all the dirty work that don't get enough credit for all the things they do up front, making us look good. Just want to give credit to those guys.

Like I said, it just shows the quality of depth that we have on the offensive side of the ball.

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