Lesson Learned: Lack of focus, player issues led to Sugar Bowl loss
|Tuesday, December 18, 2018, 1:21 PM- -|
CLEMSON – New Orleans is known as a party city, and many Clemson players feel like last year’s Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama was a result of too much fun in the Big Easy, too many players putting themselves above the team, and not enough want to.
Clemson held its College Football Playoff Media Day Tuesday in the indoor practice facility, and more than one player went out of their way to mention that the 2018 Tigers have a better mindset heading into the College Football Playoff than last year’s team.
It started with wide receiver Tee Higgins.
“I think we just have a better mindset this year. Last year I felt like a lot of us didn’t want it as bad as we do this year,” Higgins said. “We got a lot of veterans back on the team defense wise and offense on the line. It’s just our mindset. We want it way more than I think we did last year.
“I feel like we are way more together this year. We do a lot of things together. Say one of our offensive players get into with one of our defensive players we will hug it out or something like that. We are just family. It’s great for us, and it is going to help us move forward.”
The Tigers lost 24-6 to eventual national champ Alabama, and many credited the loss to the Crimson Tide’s usual dominance. Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence doesn’t buy into that.
"We had a little too much fun in Louisiana last year," he shared about the Sugar Bowl. "We know we can't do that and we know there is a different mindset that we've got to bring for this bowl game."
Lawrence said this year’s trip to Dallas and Arlington for the Cotton Bowl would be different.
"We've got all the time in the world in a different city, and everyone wants to explore, but at the end of the day, we are there for business and got to take care of our next goal and win these four quarters,” Lawrence said.
Defensive back K’Von Wallace says this year’s team is more of a family.
“The difference between last year's team and this year's team is this one is more family-oriented. We are more together,” Wallace said. “There are some things we are doing better this year to be this undefeated team that we are. What we do as a team, we do together. Coach Swinney has given us the best opportunity to get out there and perform.
“We aren't about the strength of the offense or the strength of the defense. We are just ready for the next game, and we are ready to give our best on offense, defense, and special teams for Notre Dame. We have to make plays, and it's a blessing to get the opportunity to do so.”
Offensive lineman Sean Pollard says this season is about redemption.
“I think we just have something to prove,” Pollard said. “We're an old team, and we didn't do what we wanted to do last year. I guess you can say redemption, but I think it's just unfinished business rather than redemption. We want to get back to where we want to go and Notre Dame is in our way. They're a great team, and it's going to be a great challenge.”
Pollard said there are lessons to be learned from last year.
“For sure. That's one reason it's nice to have a bunch of veterans coming back,” Pollard said. “We realize what we did last year. There's definitely a different feel this year. We're taking it a little bit more serious, and we realize it's a lot of people's last go ‘round.”
Left tackle Mitch Hyatt says some of the players lost focus, hinting that some might have been more focused on a jump to the NFL than they were focused on Alabama.
“We didn't end the year how we wanted to. Just that whole game, we didn't look like ourselves, and it was just hard to see,” Hyatt said. “There is some motivation and some understanding that we didn't play our best game at the end of the season last year and we want to finish strong this year.
“Part of it was that there were some things that happened that some people lost focus toward the end of the season and it didn't turn out as planned.”
Wide receiver Amari Rodgers says the entire team is more focused this season.
“With what happened last year, everybody is more focused is taking the process more seriously,” Rodgers said. “It was hard, but we had to get back to work. I know that we had a lot of people coming back, a lot of people who knew the result of last year. I feel like we've used that as motivation.”