No Pizza Party, but Swinney ready for Championship Phase


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Swinney says the Tigers are entering the championship phase of the season
Swinney says the Tigers are entering the championship phase of the season

CLEMSON – Dabo Swinney doesn’t think a pizza party is possible this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less ready for the championship phase of the 2016 season.

Swinney’s third-ranked Clemson football team will face Syracuse this Saturday at 3:30 p.m., and Swinney said it will be good to be back in the friendly environs of Death Valley.

“We're excited about being back at home. It's good to be in November. This is the championship phase of our journey,” Swinney said. “We started getting ready back on January 12th. Now we're in this year's journey. We have a great opportunity in front of us as a team. The best part about our team is we're 8-0, yet we have not played our best ball. We have a lot of improving and coaching to do. It's really little things. The big things are well in place. The little things lead to big things. It's what our focus is on this week; cleaning up some of the details, the pride in being a consistent performer. These guys, I'll tell ya, they're a great group to coach. I look forward to our meetings on Mondays with our leadership guys. We have three of the next four at home. It's Military Appreciation week. Nobody does it better than Clemson. It's always a special day to be a part of it.”

The initial College Football Playoff rankings are set to be released, and Swinney said he won’t pay attention, and won’t plan a pizza party.

“No, I really don't. If we lose this week, it won't matter,” Swinney said. “But I don’t think we can have a pizza party because the game is in Orlando. It just doesn't matter. Everybody has to have something to talk about. People want to watch a good program and deal with hypotheticals. It's just not our world. We have to take care of business. We have to find a way to get to 9-0. That's our focus. We were in the first poll last year, but I don't remember who else was in that first poll. If you're in it tonight, it doesn't mean you have a golden ticket. You have to keep playing.”

Syracuse stands at 4-4 and needs wins in two of their final four games in order to be bowl eligible in Dino Babers’ first season at the helm.

“Syracuse, a dangerous team. Really dangerous. I have a lot of respect for their staff. You can tell that the team has responded,” Swinney said. “It's a first-year staff. It's very easy if you watch them from the beginning to see how those guys have bought in. They're energized and have played with tremendous effort. They're dangerous. They play incredibly fast. Their quarterback is tough and instinctive. They have one of the top three or four receivers in the country. Schematically, they present a lot of problems. A lot of run-pass options, tempo, freeze-counts; they probably freeze 30 or 40-percent of the time. They are averaging less than two seconds and the ball is out of there. They want to throw the ball. They also run effectively but they force you to spread out and play with a great tempo.

“Defensively, same thing. They're just a different group. They present a lot of different looks. They're multiple, a lot of exotic coverages. They mix in their pressures, a lot of three-insert coverages and zone pressures. They have given their guys the best opportunity to be successful. They've come off of two really good wins against Boston College and Virginia Tech. They handled Virginia Tech, so we've been impressed with Syracuse. They see an opportunity for a bowl game under a new staff. We need to play well to have a chance to win the game. If we don't play well, we'll be in a dogfight until the end. We need to play to the standard that we have set and execute at a high level. The air gets thinner in November.”
?

On team’s string of success

“No, I don't really pinch myself because it's not magic. It's not poof and it happens. It's just a lot of hard work. I'm very proud of the program we have built. That's what we set out to do. We wanted to become an incredibly consistent program. A lot has to go into that from day one. There are a lot of things that have to go into place and they don't happen overnight. I'm proud of what we have been able to accomplish. My focus has always been building a great program, not things that you can do to make things better in the short run.

"It just kind of validates what we've been doing for eight years around here. We've built a foundation and put a program in place that we can be proud of. We pride ourselves on winning but we want to win the right way and graduate players. That's what I'm most proud of. Nobody has done what we've done on and off the field. We've come a long way but eight games don't make a season this year. Lose this week and there will be plenty of bad articles talking about how we're going backwards.”

What does “championship phase” mean?

“It's been almost 300 days since January 12 and we've been working all that time to get to this point. We've got a chance to clinch a division title, a chance to win a state title and play for a conference title. There is a lot at stake. We have to play our best football and apply the lessons we have learned to this point.”

What happened to tempo

“It really hasn't changed much. We had 84 gradable plays on offense the other night. We want 80 plays a game, still. Sometimes things in the game dictate what you're doing. Back then people were asking me in 2011 if we were going to stink on defense. Back then it was like, you'll never win a championship with that offense and it was assumed you'd be terrible on defense. My message back then was we didn't have enough data to say that. People just love to throw those theories out there.

"The game has changed but at the end of the day we love tempo. I've never wanted to be the air-raid offense. We want to run offensively. Very rarely do we not have a two-back presence. You rarely see us in 10-personnel. We always have the ability to have that two-back presence. What we do with our quarterback presents more run opportunities as well. We've been really good on defense, too. We train tough. We're built from the inside out, built in the trenches.”

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