Quotable: Swinney, Watson, Gallman and Lawson break down Clemson's win

by - Senior Writer -
Dabo Swinney acknowledges fans as he leaves the field after ACC title game.
Dabo Swinney acknowledges fans as he leaves the field after ACC title game.

CHARLOTTE, NC – Clemson defeated North Carolina 45-37 Saturday night in Charlotte, winning the program’s 15th ACC Championship and earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinneyand Clemson players Deshaun Watson, Shaq Lawson and Wayne Gallman talk about the win.

Dabo Swinney: Okay, that was fun. That was a blast. In case y'all are wondering what the heck is going on with this jersey, it was my 100th game and the players gave me this in the locker room, and just really humbled by that. It's amazing.

But that was championship football. Really proud of our team and happy for our fans. Just happy for Clemson Nation. Some of you may or may not know, but our other football team, our soccer team, made the Final Four last night, so we've got two Clemson football teams in the Final Four, which is pretty cool, so I'm glad we were able to uphold our end of the deal tonight.

One of the things I told the players in the locker room is that they're in the moment right now and they really -- they're just young, and there's really no way that they can really have a true appreciation for what they've accomplished, and just how hard it is to accomplish what they've accomplished, and I've been on a 13-0 team. I know how hard it is to do it.

But they will appreciate this as they grow older and wiser. But it is so hard to do what they've done. I mean, the odds of going 13-0 are so incredibly slim, especially when you play three top-10 teams along the way, but these guys found a way to get it done, and I'm just so proud of them. I think we're the only undefeated team left now, 127 Division I teams and the Tigers are the last undefeated, unscathed team out there and we've had to earn it. We've had to earn it. I think that's 16 in a row for us, which is a school record, and just proud of our guys. Our 15th ACC title.

One of the things we talk about all the time is, again, you've got to earn it, and this team has earned their way to the College Football Playoff. We started talking back in August 3rd, we said 15 for 15. Why not? You know, Bible says as a man thinketh, so is he. Dream big. Dream big. Why don't we be the best ever? There's never been a 15-0 college football team. Why not at Clemson? Our guys are not afraid to dream. They're not afraid to work, and they're not afraid to get off the bank and get out in the deep water every now and then. These guys are special, and I think it showed.

I love the guts and I love the heart of this team. We talk all the time about you've got to be a champion on the inside before you can be a champion on outside, and tonight the inside of these guys really shined through. You know, so now we're here, we're the champions of this league, and you look at what happened in this game, offensively 608 yards, I mean, Deshaun Watson was amazing. He rushed for 120 something, threw for 280 something. Our offensive line took the game over, 319 yards rushing. Wayne Gallman was amazing. He had 187 yards rushing and 165 of that came in the second half, and the other thing I'm really proud of with Wayne because I want him to be the best in the country and always challenge him, you've got to get better in the passing game, and tonight he had 68 yards receiving, a receiving touchdown. So really proud of him.

Artavis Scott was huge for us, big plays, Leggett had a couple of big plays for us. Defensively, challenged Shaq, I said, hey, if you're a Lombardi finalist, play like that. He had a sack, a caused fumble, tackle for loss. Just a big game for No. 90. Cordrea Tankersley, big interception down there, huge interception. Shaq caused the fumble, Austin Bryant, a true freshman, came up with it. A lot of big plays and I think the big thing is we held No. 34 to 65 yards. He's a great back and their quarterback was 11 for 33.

Really proud of our guys, and then special teams, you know, obviously they tried to run a fake. We were able to stop that. Renfrow came up with the hands team, onside kick there. That was huge. Probably the smallest guy on the field came up with the ball. When they challenged it I said did you have that ball, he said, Coach, I had it and I showed it to the ref so great job by Renfrow. And then I thought we did a great job in a lot of areas, another big field goal.

Awesome night. Happy for our fans. Happy for Tiger Nation. Sounds like we're going to have a great pizza party tomorrow to celebrate the poll on December 6th, so we will celebrate this poll. I promise you. We'll have a good time with that. Appreciate Papa John's stepping up and working with us on that. But it's a special night, special night, and one that I'll never forget. Again, my 100th game, and to be in the ACC Championship Game is even more special, and our 15th ACC title.

Players will be off this week, then we'll get back at it next Sunday, start our bowl prep once we know who we are playing and where we're going and all that stuff. Coaches got to hit the road recruiting this week. But just really proud of our team.

This old guy to my left here, I watched him get the ACC Player of the Year trophy last night, and he's not just the best player in this conference, he's the best player in the country. If you sit down and watch all 13 games, I don't know how you can argue with that. I sure am glad he's on our team.

With that, I'll take any questions that you may have.

Q. Piggy-backing on what you talked about, your toughness, your mettle, everything that Florida State this one game with that ride that you've been through, you said this group is special. What exactly is different with this team that you're able to complete it and finish it and get the undefeated season done?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, they love each other. They truly have a love and a genuine appreciation for each other, and championship teams have to win different ways. You know, they were just going to have pepperoni pizza tomorrow, but this is supreme pizza with this team. We've got a little bit of everything. I mean, they found ways to win, different ways, and whether it's been a big kick or a big stop, you know, we've played in all kind of elements, and I think just their will to win, and then their will to prepare. These guys have been focused all year long even though everybody tries to talk them out of being focused every week. It seems like every week we're supposed to lose. Every week it's a trap game. Every week this and that, but they just keep about their business.

And it's been a fun group. The leadership of this team is amazing. That was the thing I talked about in the beginning of the year. Everybody wanted to compare this team to 2011 because we had 40 freshmen. In 2011 we had 42. But the difference is the leadership on this team, they've only had success, and they're battle tested. In 2011 we were just getting the program going and we hadn't really been there yet.

These guys have been there, done that. They've won a bunch of ballgames, so the leadership has absolutely been amazing all throughout the year, not just our seniors. Guys like -- we've got a couple sophomores right here, Shaq is a junior and he's been an incredible leader for us. Just really, I think, that's what makes us so special.

Q. Coach, I heard from you outside that 13-0 used to get you a National Championship. Now it just gets you a ticket in. How does it feel to be in?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, that's great. That was our goal. We met August 3rd. 124 days ago we had our first meeting and I put some things up on the board to kind of talk about and kind of lay out the vision for the season, so we expected to be here. This was our expectation. Everybody wanted to talk about whether we were going to be great next year. Why do we got to wait until next year? Everybody wanted to talk about what we didn't have. We had 10 guys off of last year's defense go to the NFL. We've got five new starters in the offensive line. We've got a new punter, new kicker, new snapper, new holder, but these guys, they didn't buy into all that stuff that, well, we're only supposed to be good next year. We knew we had good players back. I'm sitting here going, hey, we've got Shaq. He's pretty good. I know Vic is gone but that No. 90 is going to be okay. Kevin Dodd and Reader and Watkins and all those guys and Ben and B.J. and T.J. and Jayron and Cordrea and Mackensie, and I mean, we've got good players. And then you look at this offense, I really felt like our offensive line would turn out to be a strength for us, and it has.

So we expected to be here, but it's awesome. We're the only undefeated team left. It's a hard thing to do. Like I said, in 1992 we were 13-0 and we were national champions, but that don't get it done anymore. You've got to keep playing. And that's exactly what we're going to do.

Q. You touched on how the youth of this team, seeing the implications going forward, about how much this is going to impact them later in life, seeing particularly your quarterback, sophomore, tremendous potential down the road. What does that show for him for his junior and senior year?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, he's just going to get better. I know that sounds crazy, but you usually don't get worse. You usually get better when you've got great work ethic, and that's what he has. He's got great work ethic. He loves to prepare. Nobody has higher expectations for him than he has for himself.

We're going to get another off-season. He didn't get to go through spring practice last year. He did mentally, but physically he wasn't because he was recovering, so he's going to get stronger. We're going to put a little bit more weight on them bones he's got, and there's nothing like -- there's no greater teacher than experience, so I think he'll be an even tougher out next year.

Q. Talk about the 1992 team. You were with Alabama. What are you going to teach your players about that to help them get ready for this game coming up?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, we've got kind of a bowl plan that we believe in as far as how we get our team ready. We'll obviously have a great opponent. I don't know who it'll be but it'll be a big-time opponent. That's kind of par for the course around here. The last three years we've played LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma. We know how to get ready, and we'll do what we've always done, and we'll get the team ready to go. But you know that when you play in games like that, you have to play well. You don't have a big margin for error.

We're going to play a team that's going to be probably equally as talented as us, even though they're going to have a lot on their record. Anybody can have a bad day.

So it's going to come down to the little things, and so we've got to have great preparation. First of all, we've got to get our football team kind of rested up and healthy again, and we'll do that.

But we'll go to work and do what we do and what we believe in at Clemson as far as getting the team ready to go, and I assume -- I guess we'll play on December 31st, and we have a bowl structure as far as what we do for a game on the 31st. We'll show up and we'll be ready to play, and we're going to have fun with it. That's what I love about the playoff is you still get a chance to have the bowl experience. I think that's important.

If you win, it just means you've got to go play one more. We look forward to competing against a great team somewhere, and we'll be ready to play.

Q. Deshaun, you guys had two 90-plus yard touchdown drives. What does that say about the grit of this team?

DESHAUN WATSON: Just the leadership and the guys we have on this team. No matter where we get the ball, we always have that mindset of get one 1st down, and if we do that, we can score. One of them where Wayne split the guys and got like 20, 30 yards, we just knew that we had them on their heels, so we just kind of tempoed them, and just the type of leadership and the type of mindset we have on this offense, that we can score anywhere on the field.

Q. Dabo, what happened on your fake punt? Larry said the first onside kick the officials got it wrong, got the call wrong. I want you to give your take on that. Thank you.

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I don't know about the first onside -- you're talking about when they called him offside? I mean, I don't know. They called him offside. I have no idea. Y'all watched it on TV. I don't know.

But there was no fake punt. That was just Teasdall kind of losing his mind, I mean, like went crazy on me for -- I don't have an answer for it. We're supposed to be what we call Rambo and we're supposed to be rolling to the right and putting the ball in the ground, and he went Superman or something, 3rd-and-forever and he just thinks he's going to run out -- I have no idea. I have no answer. He doesn't, either. We had a little I love you and I love you back session, but you know, he got dialed back in. But there was no fake punt. Holy cow. It was just a young man making a really bad play. That's all I can say.

Q. Deshaun, we saw the Heisman pose there at the end. Is that the first time you've ever done that pose or maybe just the first time you've ever done the pose in public?

DESHAUN WATSON: First time probably -- yeah, first time ever. I mean, when I'm sitting in my room I probably tried it, but like just in public, it's just having fun with it. If I get invited I'm going to enjoy it, just give all the credit to my teammates, especially these guys up here. Without them I wouldn't be in the position I'm in, and just give God the glory and just see what happens.

Q. Deshaun, we saw glimpses of what you could do last year before you went down with your injury. But this year you played a full regular season and just really established yourself. Your coach calls you the best player, definitely one of the best players in the country. Being in the Heisman conversation, what's that mean to you so young as a sophomore?

DESHAUN WATSON: I mean, it's something I've always dreamed about. It's an honor. It's a blessing to just be named in that category with all the great legends, and just really -- my mindset right now is just celebrating my teammates. If that time comes, if I get invited, then we're going to celebrate it and have fun with it. If not, then oh well. But I feel like I'm one of the best in the country, and that's because of the players I have with me and the coaching staff I have in this program.

You know, just give them the credit, and without them I wouldn't be able to call myself one of the best.

Q. Wayne, not a lot of openings early for you but just talk about the mindset, the mentality you had that my time will come, and then you had the fortitude to almost take things over for your team in the second half.

WAYNE GALLMAN:Yeah, I just needed to provide a spark for the offense in the second half. You know, you saw things were moving kind of slow in the first, and all the stopped drives on 3rd down, and it was just time to change that, so I just got my mind together.

Q. I didn't want to ask you this question the last few weeks in the pressure cooker that you've been on, but throughout this run that you've had, how many times have you thought about the timing of the passing of your father, and has this kind of helped assuage the grief that you felt and do you feel like he's looking down on you and enjoying this and maybe even helped the ball bounce your way a few times during the season?

DABO SWINNEY: I think about him every day. There's not a day that goes by I don't think about my dad. I thought about him all throughout the game because, yeah, I mean, listen, I know Big Erv, if he's got any say in it, he's in the middle of you I promise you with all the other Tiger fans that are up in heaven looking down. I don't have any doubt. I think about him every day. I miss him, and he's -- I called him every Sunday, and I miss being able to do that and just hearing him. But I know that he's peaceful and smiling, big-time, running all around heaven, high-fiving, I promise you. I just appreciate you asking that question. It's been a special season, even more so because I know how much he's enjoyed this.

Q. The final play of the first half, how important was it to get that touchdown with six seconds on the clock? Was there any consideration to kicking it at that point and was there concern about if you ran a play not scoring?

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, definitely. We changed the play. I didn't like the play because I was worried about taking a little too long, and so we switched to the little play action there because we knew he had an option where he could run it or throw it. It was a little hard play action play, and Leggett popped.

Big play, ended up with two seconds, and that's kind of what I thought on that play would be if we didn't get it, there would be a couple seconds left, or at least one, and we could kick the field goal.

But I just felt like it was the right call in that situation.

Q. Deshaun, we all know about Cam Newton's comments and how much he's admired you ever since camp. Is there any special significance to you coming into this building and putting up a performance like that?

DESHAUN WATSON: I mean, not really. It really doesn't matter where I play. I'm going to perform to my highest ability. But I mean, it's an honor to be in the stadium. I've always wanted to play in an NFL stadium before, and this is probably my third time in my whole career. I played in the Georgia Dome, down at the Miami Dolphins and now here. But there's nothing, of course, they're having a great season and he's been doing great things here. So just really I wanted to prove to the world that we're one of the best teams in the country and we earned that spot in the top four.

Q. Shaq and Coach, seemed like the front seven was really getting pressure all night long and forcing Marquise to be a little uncomfortable in the pocket. Can you talk about how well you guys played up front?

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I thought the first half we were dominant defensively. We had some bust there. Listen, they're offensively a great offense, No. 1 scoring offense in the league for a reason. I knew they would find some plays somewhere along the way. We missed him a couple times, had him hemmed up. He's a really good football player, but Shaq, he can speak to this, but I think he did a great job of leading our front seven out there and came up with some huge plays, like great players do. I'll turn it over to Shaq with that.

SHAQ LAWSON: We knew we had to put pressure on him, coming into this game, all week, he liked to stand in the pocket a lot, so we knew we had an opportunity to make plays on him. The team gave up less sacks in the ACC, so we knew coming in we had to get to the quarterback.

Q. Shaq, playing against Marquise Williams, very mobile quarterback, tough guy to bring down. How much is it helping your preparation to have a guy like Deshaun to practice against?

SHAQ LAWSON: It's great. I remember when Deshaun first came in and it was always hard to tackle him and get him on the ground. It helped us out a lot. We knew what we were prepared for because we had seen him last year.

Q. Usually ball security and field position plays a big role in the games. How big a role did that play in tonight's game and moving forward?

WAYNE GALLMAN: It's pretty much the main focal point of any offense to really have 100 percent ball security, man, and you know, not letting any balls get on the ground, so that's pretty much the main focal point.

DESHAUN WATSON: Just really whoever has the ball the most is going to have more opportunities to really control the game, and I think we protected the ball really well. I think Coach Swinney just told me we won the turnover margin. If we win the turnover margin that's one of our goals that's going to tell us we're going to win the game. That's one of the biggest things that we worked on all week, and we came out on top.

Q. Shaq, did you feel like you rattled Williams pretty early on and sort of set the tone making him really uncomfortable?

SHAQ LAWSON:Yes, sir, I did. I feel like the first play when I got the big hit on him, I knew he felt it a lot, so I knew we had to do that all game is hit him. We couldn't have him comfortable in the pocket.

Q. Shaq, with the explosive offense you guys have, do you feel like the defense kind of operates under the radar?

SHAQ LAWSON: Yes, sir. Coach Swinney preaches every day about getting the ball back for our offense. We knew if we got the ball back to our offense, we knew they would put up points.

Q. Wayne, I think you set a Clemson record tonight for the first back to have eight 100-yard rushing games in a season. Your thoughts on that?

WAYNE GALLMAN: I'm just happy to have the accolades. Just winning means everything to me.

Q. Shaq, when Carolina was driving and you had that sack and caused Williams to fumble the ball, take us through that play, and Coach, tell us how big that was in the sense that Carolina was trying to come back?

SHAQ LAWSON: We preach about the ball every day. It's always about the ball. We've got balls in our meeting room about getting the balls back. We go into every meeting room and hit the ball and during warmups we catch balls and pick up fumbles and stuff. We knew it would be about the ball, so I felt like I had to make the play.

DABO SWINNEY:It was a huge play in the game, obviously. Austin Bryant, a freshman, a true freshman defensive end coming up with it. But that's football. That's what it's all about. That's why there's three phases and all three phases have opportunities to impact the game.

That was huge, just like the one with Cordrea. What a great interception Cordrea had. Unbelievable. Unbelievable play on the ball. But that's what you've got to do to win games like this.

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