Playoff Time: Tigers will have to play at a high level to beat Buckeyes


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Swinney says Urban Meyer's Buckeyes are a complete team
Swinney says Urban Meyer's Buckeyes are a complete team

CLEMSON – Practice has started for the College Football Playoff, and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says this year’s playoff features four great teams and that the Tigers will have to play at a high level to advance.

Second-ranked Clemson travels to Glendale (AZ) to take on third-ranked Ohio St. in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve, and Swinney says the game is a battle of complete teams.

“Very, very proud of this team and the accomplishments they've had and what they've earned on the field. At the end of the day, we're where we wanted to be,” Swinney said during a press conference in the WestZone Tuesday. “When we started the season we had high expectations and to win the conference back to back years - we all know how difficult that is - especially when you're picked to do it. The guys have continued to excel and manage those expectations. We've got a shot to get back to the championship. You don't get in this position unless you're a great team. You've got four great teams in the same position we are. They are complete teams in all phases and to win these type of games you have to play well. You're not going to sneak up on anybody, not going to trick anybody. You've got to play football at a high level.”

The Tigers began practice for Ohio St. Monday.

“We're excited to get back going and start getting dialed in on Ohio State. They are a great team and are 11-1,” Swinney said. “This is a well-coached football team. He's done a great job and I have a lot of respect for Coach Meyer. We spend a week together every year and I always enjoy sitting around, shooting the breeze with him. Love his wife Shelly, they are just good people. He's done a great job and it's not just at Ohio State, it's everywhere he's been. He just wins. He's surrounded himself by a great staff and the support staff to go with it. They are a complete football team and program and we're excited to go compete against a great team like Ohio State.”

The Buckeyes struggled on offense late in the season but still pose a challenge for opposing defenses.

“Offensively, they are a run first offense. I think they are 4th in the nation in rushing with about 260 yards a game, so they know what they're doing,” he said. “Excellent up front and an All-American at center and all of their guys are highly recruited. Excellent running back and a couple of guys that rotate in there. They have a great tight-end in #85 and got some excellent wide outs, as you would think. And, then they have #4 (Curtis Samuel). This guy is special. He's got over 1500 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's everywhere. They use him a lot like we used Sammy, when he was here. He has similar explosiveness, but they will put him in the backfield more than we put Sammy back there.

“He's very comfortable being back there running ball. He's as dynamic of a guy that you will see in this final four group. Very, very good football player and we have a big challenge in trying to contain him. Their quarterback, JT Barrett, is a great football player. He's the second leading rusher on the team and just a guy that can beat you in a lot of ways. All the zone reads and quarterback runs, powers, counters, speed sweep and jets - everything, they got it and all of the play action to come off of it. They know what they're doing and that's why they've been very successful. An offense that is scoring 42 points a game is a tough challenge.”

The Buckeyes are also dangerous on defense.

“Defensively, they are 4th in the country in total defense. Complete group and very deep up front,” Swinney said. “They play a lot of guys in that defensive line. They're three deep across the board and I’ve seen them all play and they do an excellent job. They'll take some of those ends and move them inside in some situations and create some advantageous miss-matches. Really good at linebacker. Guys are fast and we recruited several of those guys for this team. This will be as good as secondary as we've seen, no question about it.

“Excellent at corner and very good at safety. They have a lot of depth in the secondary and play a lot of guys. Malik Hooker is big-time, big-time special. He's as good of player that I've seen on tape this year, on the back end. He is a tackler, he's fast, has great range, very smart and instinctive player. The backups come in and they look just like the starters. So, very good group and they know what they are doing schematically and have a great understanding of their techniques.”

Samuel is also dangerous on special teams.

“Special teams, I thought we might have a chance there, but I'm at the awards show and I look up and there is their punter. He's up for the Ray Guy award, so they have an excellent group and great returners. #4 (Samuel) is another area where he will impact the game,” Swinney said. “He's not only catching and rushing, but he's returning as well. Just a very complete team, just like you'd expect when you get in this situation. I'm sure they're looking at us and saying the same things. These are two really good teams that are going to line up in the Fiesta Bowl and get after it and we're excited about that. Every play can impact the game. It's not one of these games where you can go out there and stumble around and win. You have to play well and to play well, you have to prepare well. That's our focus - get back to work. We have a lot to do. We love this time of year because we have some to get ready. For us, we've always just focused on the fundamentals and the techniques of what we do.”

OTHER NOTES

Practice this week

“You get into the course of the season and every week - with the 20-hour rule - it's very compressed and you can't rep as many guys and you have to get locked in on that week. When you have a little bit more time, it's fun to go back and refresh on a lot of the fundamentals and techniques in some drill work. And, also, get some Clemson work. Some good on good and get back to some of the stuff we do Clemson wise and obviously, we have to take a lot of time to prepare for Ohio State and that's part of the process as well. For us, we take a lot of time to develop our young guys for spring.

“We've got a bunch of young talent on this team and a lot of guys that haven't really been coached a whole lot since fall camp and so we get the varsity out of the way, if you will, and take this young group and use the time we have left in the season to try and shorten the learning curve, build the foundation that we'll be counting on this spring. We'll need this guys to step up for next fall. So, this is a critical time for a lot of areas, but it's fun too because there is nobody here and the team can enjoy being together. We try to have a good balance and get our work in. We're not on the field long, so you have to have good energy when you're out there, but also, give them an opportunity to have down time and have some fun as well.”

Injuries

Scott Pagano is back. (Richard) Yeargin is back and Trevion (Thompson) is out. He has a fracture in his wrist and is going to be out for a while. They did the surgery and put the pin in there and has a cast. He probably will not be back full speed until the second half of spring practice.”

Trevion Thompson

Thompson suffered a fracture in his wrist in the ACC Championship against Virginia Tech and will miss the rest of the season. Thompson had surgery on the wrist and a pin put in. Thompson will be back for the second half of spring practice according to Swinney.

"I am disappointed for him," Swinney said. "Let me tell you that young man has made a ton of progress. He's already been a good player for us, but he is one of those guys you will look up in a couple of years and you will go 'wow' because he will playing on Sunday like Jaron Brown. Where did this guy come from? That's kind of where Trevion is. He's a developing guy that has two years left and I think when it is all said and done he is going to be an excellent player. So just disappointed for him to miss out on this opportunity, but he did have a good year. He made some really good progress for his development."

Thompson had 11 catches for 108 yards and a TD in 2016.

On Jake Fruhmorgen

"There is no update right now," Swinney said. "He still isn't with us."

When pressed and asked if he would be back, he said, "I don’t expect anything right now. There are no expectations."

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